Black Girl Hockey Club Canada — Interview with founder Saroya Tinker — Must-click women’s hockey links
The IX: Hockey Friday with The Ice Garden, July 28, 2023
Happy Hockey Friday from The Ice Garden’s Angelica Rodriguez. Black Girl Hockey Club Canada, and by extension director and former Toronto Six defender Saroya Tinker, have been extremely busy lately. Their latest feat? Holding the first-ever hockey camp of its kind, a landmark event with 65 participants (including seven players from places as far away as Winnipeg and New Jersey, who were financially supported by the nonprofit in order to attend). I caught up with Tinker briefly to chat about the camp, what it was like and what’s next.
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Five at The IX: Saroya Tinker
Answers have been edited for clarity.
AR: Take me through the process of setting up this camp through Black Girl Hockey Club (BGHC) Canada and what it was like.
ST: We initially started with trying to have some sort of annual event that we could do, whether it was a conference or camp or whatnot. I had already sent a survey out to see which girls would be in the area that would want to participate in any on-ice sessions in the summer. I initially thought of giving them weekly training or something along those lines, but I figured it would be much more beneficial if we all just gathered in one part of the community and all met each other and actually had a camp. Sophie Jaques [of Ohio State] had just joined the BGHC U.S. board, and we wanted to do something together, she would be in the area that weekend, so we said, “Okay, let’s do the camp that weekend — Sophie and I will be the head coaches for it,” and I got everything together from there.
AR: Was it invitational, sign-up, all age groups or just a specific one…? How did that process go?
ST: We just put it out there and said, “All are welcome, we hope people can come in from out of the area, and if there’s financial aid needed [to attend] please let us know,” and we were looking at group rates for hotels and whatnot. In that sense, I expected about 30 girls or so to sign up, [since] it’s also a very big recruiting weekend in Boston at the Beantown tournament for a lot of girls’ teams right now. I was aware it may not have the best turnout, but this was the only weekend we were available. We ended up with 65 girls signed up, and I ended up having to book much more ice and get many more coaches out, and I was super happy with the turnout. I feel like after this year being the first year, I mean, I don’t see how we can’t have 200 girls next year if we pick the right weekend and are able to financially support a lot of them coming in. It was ages 10-18 — I think that was probably the best age group for us to do — but at the same time I see this being huge. BGHC is obviously not just a space for young girls to play hockey, but women and fans of the game as well. If we can grow this, and BGHC can be this nationwide nonprofit, as me and Renee [Hess of the U.S. BGHC] have discussed as we opened our Canadian entity, I think we can have a parent age group, we can have a Learn To Skate age group and everything in-between. And that’s really the hope and the goal, is getting Black women into hockey… we want to be inclusive to everyone.
AR: I was reading the caption to your Instagram post about the camp, and you mentioned things that are really unique to Black female players — things like taking care of your hair when it’s under a helmet, etc. What do you feel are the biggest or maybe even smallest things that those in power in hockey overlook when it comes to Black players specifically?
ST: I think specifically with the girls, it’s just seeing other Black girls in the arena. I mean, me growing up, I played against Buckey [Mikyla Grant-Mentis] and I so often saw Avery Mitchell [of Penn State] in the arena, and of course Mariah Hinds, our assistant coach at the camp this weekend, but that was about it. I think it’s important for them to see other Black women who love the game of hockey. I also wanted to implement hair care. Our hair is very often something people discuss with us, like, “Oh, how does your hair fit in your helmet?” or “Why aren’t you washing your hair after practice?” I think a lot of our girls need help with that. I get asked a lot in my mentorship meetings how I take care of my hair, so I decided to implement that with a Black-owned business. Veronica Okafor owns Tangerine, and she came in to talk to our girls about how to love their hair and take care of it in their hockey helmets.
AR: What do you take from this first camp and look to improve for next time around, and can we expect expansion to different locations or even the U.S. anytime soon?
ST: I think my takeaway is that there are way more girls than I even thought. I know there are a lot of girls in the game, but at the same time I didn’t realize there were this many who were willing to come in and meet new people and really need this community. I think for next time, I mean, I don’t see why we can’t travel. Maybe the camp can be in a different location each year, we don’t necessarily have to do Toronto every year. We can implement more coaches — I want all of [BGHC] to be here. We had Renee send us a video and say hi to the girls, and just tell them a little more about how she started BGHC. Sarah Nurse sent in a video as well, and Blake Bolden wished she could have been there as well. I don’t see why we can’t have all these Black women that are strong and powerful in hockey come and speak to our girls, and implement more of even a conference and camp [together]. Next year, honestly, I hope we do have 200-plus sign up, and I hope we are able to bring [more] girls in. … I want us all to stick together as Black women in the game and find that space for the girls coming up.
AR: Lastly, what’s next for BGHC Canada and for you personally as the landscape of women’s hockey changes again?
ST: In terms of BGHC, as we move forward we’re about to give out our scholarships — we give [them] out at the end of August, so I’m excited to read through those applications with my board and figure out who wins what scholarship this year and be able to support those girls. In terms of myself, in terms of women’s hockey, I’m training and doing what I can do to stay in the game and make sure I’m ready when the time comes, and when we get that call as to what’s going on. I’m still playing, I’m still going hard.
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