Title IX went into effect. on June 23, 1972. A few years later when I was a college student in Oswego, N.Y., I saw an ad in the school paper recruiting female students to play ice hockey. The school had both men’s varsity and junior varsity teams, and to comply with Title IX they decided to eliminate the men’s junior varsity and add a women’s varsity team. It sounded like fun and I went and signed up.
On all those cold and snowy winter days I’d walk across campus to the Romney Field House. We skated six days a week and mostly drilled: forwards, backwards, skate to the blue line, drop to your knees, slide, step up and keep skating. We’d skate around cones in all sorts of patterns. We drilled, drilled and drilled some more. After all, in those early years, the coaches had to build a team from a pool of inexperienced skaters. I was proud to have hockey skates and remember skating against some on other teams who were in figure skates. I probably wasn’t very good but I loved it and loved being part of the team. It was invigorating and exhausting and challenging all at the same time.
I remember conversations in the locker room and how I wondered what would be achieved after girls had the opportunity to grow up with the sport. Twenty years later, in 1998, women’s ice hockey finally made it to the winter Olympics and looking back, a generation had indeed grown up since we first played.
We had supporters and I remember friends from the dorm, men and women, coming to every game and cheering us on.
My mom wrote a poem for me, about me playing ice hockey and about a mother’s worry. That poem is my most prized possession from my mom, who died a few years ago. The core message in her poem is taken from two of the lines:
. . . So now our offspring’s free to be
Exactly whatever she wants to be.
Although that line in her poem was a written sendoff, the truth was that she was afraid I’d get hurt. My father’s answer to her concern was simply to say that if I broke anything, like my teeth or bones, they’d get them fixed.
So, besides those of us who had new opportunities to grab with gusto, there were supportive parents behind us, in my case a concerned mom and an encouraging dad who were also breaking with tradition and sending a daughter off to experience the world in ways they, or their parents, never could have imagined in their youth.
I learned to be brave, independent, to go for it and live life on my own terms, lessons that have lasted far longer than a single ice hockey season.
My “career” ended during one unfortunate game with a sprained ankle in my senior year. As it was winter in Oswego, the trainer or assistant coach simply opened up the back door of the field house and filled a baggie with snow to put on my ankle. Then as friends drove, I sat in the back seat with my foot in a bucket of snow and ice as we headed three hours to Buffalo and my parent’s house, a doctor and ultimately a pair of crutches.
Years later, when my nephew was a little boy (he’s now 19) I took him skating at the Martha’s Vineyard Arena during a family vacation. As he mostly hugged the boards, I ventured out into the center of the ice to see if I had any of the old skills left. Could I still skate backwards? As it was a public rink I wasn’t used to sharing the ice with so many people. At one point I fell and landed directly on both knees. It was so painful I was frozen in my place. I probably had a very unhappy and surprised look on my face but a kind man came over and helped me up. That time on the ice was quite different from my old skating days of being covered in protective padding which had given me such a sense of security and fearlessness. I don’t think I’ve had skates on since that day, but in my head I can still fly around the ice.
My hockey jacket still hangs in the back of the out-of-season closet, and every few years I take a peek at it when I’m swapping out seasonal clothes. It is green corduroy (school colors); my nickname from that time, Fern, is embroidered on the right chest and the Oswego State Women’s Ice Hockey 76-77, patch is sewn on the left side. The number 22 is on the top of the right arm.
I remember what I weighed those couple of years on the team and wish I could get back to my skating weight and back into shape. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll go for a long walk.
My favorite photo of me from that time, taken by a roommate, sits on a shelf in my office and I’m still inspired when I look at it.
Just last year, I took the skates from the back of the closet and put them in a garage sale. A teenaged boy picked them up from the table and said, “Look mom, these are ancient!” I looked around and realized I was older than his mom.
So be it!
Happy 40th anniversary Title IX. Thank you for the opportunities and the memories.
Donna Foster is a photographer and sometimes writer based in Charlotte, N.C.. She is the daughter of Herb Foster of Edgartown and the late Anita Foster.