Reflecting on Female Hockey Day
Renee Hess was just a hockey fan in California when she noticed that black women weren’t represented in the game. With a desire to create an inclusive and supportive space, the Black Girl Hockey Club (BGHC) was born.
“Renee noticed that she always felt very uncomfortable and left out going to games, so she figured why not start a club for black women in hockey,” said Saroya Tinker, executive director of Black Girl Hockey Club Canada. “Renee has never played hockey, but a lot of the girls who started out at Black Girl Hockey Club were just fans.”
Tinker became involved with the BGHC when she first began volunteering on the scholarship committee. As a professional hockey player, Tinker saw an opportunity to raise money for the BGHC during the National Women’s Hockey League bubble in 2021.
“I set my goal at $5,000 and we ended up raising $32,000,” Tinker said. “We found there was a lot of interest from Canadian companies. Obviously ice hockey is very popular in Canada and specifically in the greater Toronto area there was already a network of girls. So we decided to expand our network and move the BGHC across the border to Canada and implement our programs here.”
BGHC Canada offers a mentoring program for Black women ages 8-21, financial assistance and scholarships for Black women of all ages to play, mental health and wellness resources including subsidized therapies and focus groups, and partnerships with NHL teams and community initiatives accessible, to create diverse and welcoming events across the country.
“We want girls of all ages to play. A black grandma who wants to learn to play hockey or is two years old and needs her first pair of skates,” Tinker said. “I think that’s really our goal, to create that sense of community and to recognize that black women play hockey and we’re just trying to normalize it.”
Tinker started playing hockey as a child. Her father, a black man who took on his own challenges in the game, had a passion for the sport. After introducing Tinker to the game, she fell in love with the freedom of being on the ice.
“Throughout my career, I’ve always felt like I had to take out a bit of my blackness to fit the arena and these environments,” Tinker said. “The experiences I had led me to what I do today, and that’s my goal — to make sure these girls have a community.”
One of Tinker’s first experiences with open racism was when she was 12 years old, when a teammate used racial slurs in the locker room.
“I didn’t know how to react. I remember talking to my dad and he said I’m going to have more experiences like this,” Tinker said. “Now I’m trying to make sure their experience (black girls currently playing hockey) is better than mine and make sure they have a representation to look at.”
Today, Tinker plays defense for the Toronto Six of the Premier Hockey Federation.
“I still play, but girls are my destiny to play. I can do that for them while I’m still opening these doors, that’s what I’m here for,” Tinker said. “I am pleased that we were able to bring Black Girl Hockey Club to Canada and are now represented throughout North America.”
Although Tinker lives in Ontario, she still connects with girls from across the continent via Zoom. When she can, she schedules face-to-face meetings with members of BGHC Canada.
“It’s so easy to connect with people these days. It’s exciting to see that we’re all over Canada. Whenever I’m in Alberta, I always want to make sure I meet the girls,” Tinker said. “I know I’ve met a few girls in Alberta, I have yet to meet a few more, but it’s really exciting when we meet in person and that makes it that much more special.”
Currently, BGHC Canada’s primary source of communication is online. BGHC Canada is on Instagram, Twitter and has the ability to contact the club on their website. Tinker encourages all black women to join the club and become part of the community.
“We are such a growing community. I see new black girls in the arena every day. In that sense, ‘we’re adding to the club,'” Tinker said. “These girls build friendships and network connections that will last a lifetime.”
BGHC Canada welcomes all communities. Allies of BGHC Canada are invited to attend community events or contact BGHC Canada to learn how they can support the club.
The first of February is National Day of Women and Girls in Sport and marks the start of Black History Month. Listen to the Center Ice Podcast to hear the full conversation with Saroya Tinker, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and Podbean.