No Boys Allowed
Hear them roar. New to Toyota Center in El Segundo, the South Bay’s All-Girls Youth Hockey Program seeks to teach its players confidence—both on and off the ice.
- Written byStefan Slater
Photographed by Jeff Berting
When the players of the LA Lions all-girls youth hockey program take to the ice, they don’t hold back. You need only watch them compete at the Toyota Sports Center to see their athletic enthusiasm in action.
Ranging in age from 8 to 12, the players are all smiles as they fly through the cold air and across the ice, running drills and skating from one end of the rink to the other. “It’s exceptional,” says Megan Rivera, head coach of the Lions. “We’ll be one of the only hockey clubs in LA County with a girls-only program with multiple age levels.”
Megan, who’s also an account executive for the LA Kings hockey development program, notes that the Lions—also operated by the Kings—consists of roughly 50 or so girls on three teams, a new and groundbreaking program that’s “growing all the time.” While many of the girls are from the South Bay area, Megan says that some travel quite a distance to practice during the week at the Sports Center.
“We have a girl who travels from Ojai, another from Valencia,” she says.
The Lions’ burgeoning popularity highlights not only the increased demand for an all-girls youth hockey program in the South Bay—something that was sorely missing in the area—but also the need for more girls youth hockey programs like it in California. The Lions also serve as an important reminder about the sport overall in the South Bay: Ice hockey is tremendously beneficial for children, helping to instill confidence and a sense of camaraderie that’s invaluable.
Becki Winckler, a kindergarten teacher in the Hawthorne school district and the founder and manager of the Lions, started the team last spring. Her daughter, Lily, plays on a co-ed youth hockey team but had an interest in playing with an all-girls team. Yet options concerning girls hockey programs were, and still are, somewhat limited in Los Angeles. One of the closest, longstanding programs—The Lady Ducks—is way south in Anaheim.
“This is our backyard,” says Becki. “We shouldn’t have to leave.” She gathered a group of girls, roughly around 8 years of age, who were also decent skaters and had experience with hockey. Many of them had played on co-ed youth hockey programs, and Becki found a common theme: While they enjoyed hockey, several of the young girls had given up the sport.
“There were some girls I came across who no longer skated. When I asked why, their parents would say that she wanted to play with girls. It was sad to think that they couldn’t play,” Becki says, adding that she was excited to get these girls back into the sport.
She pulled enough girls together to participate in a youth hockey tournament last Labor Day: the Junior Kings’ Tinseltown Tournament Series. It was during and after the tournament that Becki connected with Megan, who then reached out to the LA Kings to officially establish the Lions all-girl program.
“The only reason we were able to partner with the Kings was because of Megan. If Megan wouldn’t have been our coach, I don’t think I would’ve been in the position to grow this program so quickly,” she says, adding that the program is looking to add additional teams with older teens this year.
Becki has seen, firsthand, how beneficial the program has been for her daughter and the other Lions’ girls. Many of the girls, she notes, don’t live near one another, but the team gives them the opportunity to connect—and they’ve developed what Megan calls “the sisterhood.”
“When it’s game time, even if they lose they’re so supportive. They truly love to see each other. They’ve formed outside friendships that have nothing to do with school. The older girls have become leaders for the younger girls too,” says Becki.
She goes on to say that, for some of the girls—like her daughter—who also play on other co-ed teams, the Lions program will give them the chance to continue playing the sport once or if the idea of playing hockey alongside boys becomes unappealing.
Megan adds that the Lions have applied to play in the Southern California Amateur Hockey Association, and if they’re accepted they will be playing league games sometime this fall. League games will be a mix of co-ed teams, and occasionally the Lions play against other California all-girls teams in youth tournaments as well.
“It’s an interesting dynamic,” says Megan. As a hockey fan and player herself (she started at age 6 and played at Boston College), Megan has a keen awareness concerning the benefits of hockey—one of which is the sense of solidarity. She notes that girls on co-ed hockey teams sometimes don’t quite feel like they’re part of the social structure of a boys team.
“But here can come together and socialize, and gender isn’t an issue. The palling around they can do in the locker room, for instance. That friendship is critical, and it’s how that sisterhood develops,” she says.
Parents of the Lions players agree. Timberlake Lewis notes that his 12-year-old daughter, Riley, started figured skating at around 5, and when her younger brother eventually picked up hockey she was immediately hooked. In addition to the Lions, she also plays on a co-ed youth team, and Timberlake has noticed how the Lions program has positively impacted his daughter’s take on hockey.
“On the co-ed team she would play defense, and Riley would defer and be a little timid,” he says. But on the Lions she felt a little more at ease, and she moved from defense to center.
“She has to chase the puck and get aggressive. That self-confidence rubbed off,” he says, adding that Riley now plays center on her co-ed team. “Sports, in its best form, builds self-confidence. Not just concerning teamwork but also concerning how these kids view themselves.”
Marty Williams says his 7-year-old daughter, Makenzie, loves the program. She also plays on a co-ed team and mentions that the co-ed aspect could sometimes “take the luster out” of the game. “But the all-girl program really does offer her more of a chance to assimilate,” he says, adding that the self-confidence she’s gleaned from the Lions has carried over to other aspects of her life.
Now that the Lions are officially established and growing, both Megan and Becki look to a more competitive future. They’re both optimistic. Megan notes that given the select number of girls-only tournaments, they often play a lot of the same teams.
The parents of one team—which the Lions played last fall and earlier this January—came up to Megan during a tournament and said that the Lions girls have improved dramatically. “They’re saying that the distance we’ve come over two months is remarkable,” says Megan, adding that the upcoming season will be an exciting one for the Lions. l