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Ontario women's sport gets a Florida tryout

Marilyn Zimmerman wants to bring the good old days on ice to her new hometown.

On Saturday, Zimmerman will start teaching girls how to play a sport similar to hockey known as ringette. Instead of a puck, players on ice skates pass a plastic ring to each other and sling it into the goal.

"People haven't seen it, haven't even heard of it," Zimmerman said last week. "Any girl can play. There's no contact, and they've got enough equipment on to protect them. I don't even feel you can be hurt with the ring."

Zimmerman, 33, played the game called ringette as a youngster in Cambridge, Ontario. She started in 1970 after the sport's popularity spread in Canada, and stayed with it for nearly a decade.

Now she hopes girls in Florida will follow. In a nine-week course that costs $95 at the Tampa Bay Skating Academy, Zimmerman will teach girls at least 7 years old how to handle a stick, perfect their moves on ice and grasp the game from her childhood.

The sport has its own philosophy.

"Ringette is a mass participation team sport which encourages the physical, mental, social and moral development . . . within the highest standards of safety, sportsmanship, personal excellence and enjoyment," says the game's official rule book.

Ringette began in 1963 in North Bay, Ontario. The city's then parks and recreation director, who had only sons, developed it as an alternative winter sport for girls.

Ten years later, the sport came to West St. Paul, Minn., and Flint, Mich. Now St. Paul and its suburbs have 27 teams. There are 17 other leagues in communities across the United States _ including Fargo, N.D., and Tucson, Ariz., where national and international teams go for tournaments. Some high schools in Minnesota also have teams that compete against each other.

"It's a sport of finesse," said Michael Norsten, president of Ringette USA, the game's national governing board based in South St. Paul, Minn. "This is a sport that is designed for women. It is not a men's sport played by girls."

Unlike hockey, ringette is not combative. A team's six players on the ice must pass the ring to each other down the rink and cannot leave their zones. Lasting no longer than an hour, games usually end in double-digit scores.

"You have to make the pass. Everybody on the team is able to play the game regardless of body size and strength," said Norsten, 40, a printer whose 16-year-old daughter now plays. "It is recreational. In the youth program, there's supposed to be value in it for the players."

He said the game's international organization based in Canada has tried to add ringette to the Olympics. Although the sport is played now on three continents, he said, it has yet to receive enough support.

Besides the U.S. and Canada, ringette also is played in Finland, the former Soviet Union, Sweden and France. It has been introduced to Japan as well.

Norsten said he heard recently about efforts to bring the game to Florida.

"The Canadians love to travel. They're always going to Arizona for tournaments," he said. "I think it would be an economic gain for the fact that you could have Canadian teams traveling to Florida one day."

For now, though, Zimmerman just hopes to teach girls a new sport. And she said she does not plan to turn them into future female hockey players like Manon Rheaume, who became the first woman to play in the National Hockey League for the Tampa Bay Lightning and its farm team, the Atlanta Knights.

"The games are separate. The rules are different, and the philosophy is different," Zimmerman said. "These girls will learn how to play ringette."


Registration is under way for the nine-week course that begins Saturday. For information, phone the Tampa Bay Skating Academy at 854-4009.