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Black Girl Hockey Club scholarships add to group’s legacy

BGHC is finding a way to change hockey culture from the ground up

St Louis Blues v Nashville Predators
Black Girl Hockey Club members visit the Black History Month Museum outside Bridgestone Arena prior to an NHL game between the Nashville Predators and the St. Louis Blues on February 10, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee.
John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

What started as a space for Black women in hockey has become so much more. Recently, Black Girl Hockey Club named its second class of scholarship recipients, seven girls from across the globe.

To BGHC founder Renee Hess, the scholarship program was a natural extension of her efforts to convert BGHC to a nonprofit. “I really wanted to make sure we had something where we were giving back to the community,” Hess said.

Her background in academia helped guide her, as she saw very specified scholarships available to college students based on their major or their background. The committee of hockey moms, players, and educators she assembled researched hockey-specific scholarships, and a clear trend emerged.

“We realized that they have targeted scholarships. A lot of times the scholarships are given to the person that has the most goals or, you know, the son of a friend of the coach or something like that. We really wanted to make sure that we were hitting all the right notes in terms of needs, and so we made sure that our scholarships targeted specific groups.”

Giving young Black hockey players what they really need

Different levels were the next step. The hockey moms on the committee led the group through the various costs for a typical, full season. That became their first tier — enough to cover a full season. “We found out that the costs of the season are around $5,000, give or take. That is just to play seasonal hockey on a stable team, so those are the fees and the gear and all the other stuff that comes with it, including hot cocoa for mom while she sits in the stands on Saturday morning.”

The rest of the program fell in line from there. There’s a travel scholarship for all the extra tournament fees — a part of hockey that surprised Hess — an equipment scholarship, and a summer hockey scholarship, all specifically for Black girls from nine to 18.

Scholarship applications are available on BGHC’s website; there are three award periods throughout the year. Players or their families can apply for themselves or be nominated by others. The committee goes through each application, which includes an essay from the player and an academic check-in, thoroughly.

They’re built with flexibility, both for COVID and for other opportunities, such as this winter when Black Girl Hockey Club expanded their class from four to seven. “We have seven (awardees) because why not. We had a lot of extra money. We were like, why not let’s just do what we can. That was really cool,” Hess said.

The support the scholarship has received from supporters has been amazing to Hess. At first Black Girl Hockey Club wasn’t a nonprofit, and they were just crossing their fingers the scholarship would work. Hess said they launched with “wing and a prayer,” hoping that people would get behind this arm of BGHC.

“It’s just really been amazing to see not only big-name teams like the Seattle Kraken [NHL] and the NWHL putting together fundraisers for Black Girl Hockey Club fellowship program, but also individuals taking it upon themselves to donate $100, $10, $5. It’s just been really cool to see the support of allies, non-Black people really standing behind the mission of our scholarship program.”

Scholarship recipients get practical support too

The money is the just tip of the iceberg for the BGHC Scholarship program, though. The next step, which is already in progress, is matching the awardees with a mentor. Blake Bolden brought the idea to Hess, who immediately jumped on it. Young Black players will be connected older Black women in the sport, such as Bolden, who offered to mentor awardees.

“Having a mentorship program with these girls where they can see representation but also somebody who’s willing to get personal with them — I think that’s really important,” Hess said. “These kids are just overjoyed to have somebody that backs them up, somebody that believes in them.”

The mentorship isn’t just for the players but also for the adults in their lives as the players move through their hockey careers. Hess pointed out that the parents — specifically Black parents — often don’t know the next steps, from which program is best to how to get recruited and more. The mentorship can help that process along, an important part in ensuring Black players stay in the game and have the same opportunities.

It all feeds into the overarching goal of Black Girl Hockey Club, which Hess described as “creating communities, connecting networking and unifying, not just the Black conscious community but our allies and our resource.”

Tinker shines the spotlight

The scholarship fund saw another huge infusion recently that will help give more Black girls more money to play hockey. Metropolitan Riveters rookie defender Saroya Tinker is running a fundraiser that started in the NWHL bubble and is going through Black History Month specifically for the fund.

Tinker is on the BGHC Scholarships committee and thus reads the essays of the players. “She’s sat down and read some of the stories that we have. She got to see what we were up against in terms of the needs of these kids. So many times, you know, we read stories about girls who are playing hockey and they love it. But they also have two siblings who also play sports and their mom just can’t afford for everybody to have the same experience.

“There’s one girl who, in her application, she was so earnest about just wanting to have the same experience as her peers, be able to stay in the hotels and just go along and be one of the girls. That touched us so much because, if you grew up not being able to afford all the things that your peers can afford, it resonates.”

Currently, Tinker has raised over $30,000. Hess said Tinker’s goal is to offer more of the full-season $5,000 scholarships.

“I cannot imagine how many lives that’s going to change. We’re really excited about that.”