NEW PORT RICHEY
Women aren't normally seen as hockey players, but in New Port Richey that is beginning to change.
Once a week, several women ranging in age from 11 to 68 strap on a helmet, an array of pads and a pair of inline skates to take the floor for a game of roller hockey at Sportszone2 in the only all-women's league in Florida.
"We don't have any age limits," league creator and coordinator Marsha Brown said. "We use nine skaters on each team, and I break up the players based on experience and skill so that the teams are balanced."
Last season was the league's first year and it gave women from all over the Tampa Bay area the opportunity to experience roller hockey without the pressure of playing up to the standards of male counterparts. But the league had only three teams.
This season, however, Brown expects to have at least four or five.
"We're getting a lot of interest from women around the area," Brown said. "A lot of women spend their time running around the state taking their kids to games, but now the mothers have a chance to suit up and play, too.
"It's funny because you see kids helping their moms get dressed and then shouting from the sidelines the same stuff the moms yell at them when they're playing."
Brown's hockey background goes back 12 years to when she first assisted on the bench for her son's team. The women's league idea wasn't just a chance to get women involved in the sport — it was also a way to play the game herself.
"As girls get into their teens and older, they can't compete with the boys physically," Brown said. "This gives everyone a chance to play against other girls and not have to sit on the bench. For me, it was an eye-opener my first time as to how hard the game is. I had so much more respect for how good my kids were once I tried it."
Brown's 11-year-old daughter, Taylor, plays in the league and appreciates the all-women atmosphere as much as anybody.
"It's nice because I actually get to skate here," Taylor said. "I don't have to just sit on the bench and watch the boys play."
Brown is the league's youngest player, but more impressive are some of the older players.
Carol Green, 68, first got into hockey because her grandchildren played. The league offers something Green wishes had been around years ago.
"I've been Rollerblading for about 20 years and I was out here all the time watching the kids do it, so when this opportunity came, I decided I'm going to try it myself," Green said. "I might kill myself out here, but I'm going to try it. I just wish something like this had been around sooner."
The benefit for local women is something the league's players value for more than just recreational fitness.
The sport provides competitive women a rewarding atmosphere where they can develop camaraderie with women who love the sport as much as they do.
"By the end of the year, the league gets pretty physical because everyone wants their name on the (league) trophy," Brown said. "Last year in the championship, one of the girls put a pretty nice check on me. Then we shook hands and had a laugh. That's what makes this great is that it's become a girls club."
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