Lately it seems that everyone has been talking about girls playing more sports especially hard-hitting sports such as hockey and football. In fact, this fall, 9-year-old Kayli Reynolds, who attends Hoover Elementary School, made local headlines when she fought to play football in Tonawanda.
"Anyone who doesn't want a girl to play these sports obviously doesn't have a daughter," Nicolle Van Epps, mother of hockey player Taylor Van Epps, 10, from Hoover Elementary School, says.
She knows her daughter's passion for hockey isn't exclusive.
So what makes hockey so attractive to girls?
Often, girls are inspired to play sports by their families or friends.
"My whole neighborhood played, so I decided to," says eighth-grader Megan Rooney of St. Christopher's School, who plays for the Tonawanda Lightning.
Seven-year-old Abby Marion from Amherst was inspired by her brother Greg, 9, to play. This year, she plays in the Amherst Youth Hockey girls program. Many of Megan's teammates agree that they were influenced by their brothers. Others appreciate the workout it provides.
Seventh-grader Hannah Laski from St. Amelia's plays defense on the Lightning's girls team. She says that "other than for fun, I mostly play [hockey] for exercise."
Fellow teammate, Nina Stockman, a sixth-grader at Kenmore Middle School, agrees.
"In hockey, you're always on the move. If you want to play well, you always have to be moving your feet," Nina says.
Hockey also teaches many other important lessons.
Players learn balance, to think fast and use logic.
"I have learned to be stronger and ignore the fact that some guys just don't want girls on their teams," says Debbie Bond, the only woman playing hockey in a men's league in East Aurora. "Playing hockey has taught me more patience than what I previously had."
"Hockey also builds confidence," says Tia Piotiowski, a ninth-grader at St. Mary's High School in Lancaster who also plays for the Lightning. "Nobody expects girls to play a sport like this."
In a way, girls who play hockey are redefining the boundaries that traditional thinking once imposed on girls.
Who can girls look up to in the world of women's ice hockey? Amie Hilles was the team leader on the first U.S. Olympic women's team in 1998. The first woman from New York to play was Chris Bailey, who played on Hilles' team. These women helped lead the U.S. to a gold medal that year. It's thanks to the pioneering efforts of these women and others like them that more girls are playing today.
So how is playing on a boys' hockey team different from playing on a girls team?
Bond, Abby, Megan, Hannah, Nina and Lightning goalie Alessandra Santarosa 14, from Lewiston-Porter High School, all agree that when you play on a boys' team, there are many more fights and there's much more aggression.
Pete Gallivan, the coach of the Tonawanda Lightning 14 and under girls hockey team, agrees.
"When you're coaching boys, you don't have to tell them to be aggressive. With girls, you have to teach them to be," he says.
Although girls aren't always as aggressive as boys, they do bring many unique strengths to the game.
"One thing I do see girls bringing to the game is the ability to listen," Bond says.
Phil Basinski, the boys' hockey coach at Starpoint High School, agrees. He says that although some boys might seem faster or stronger, girls often listen better, thus making hockey more of a team game.
When asked what makes a girl a great player, Gallivan says that "there are three qualities that make a good player: love of the game, drive and confidence."
For girls interested in playing hockey, there are many organizations throughout Western New York that now have girls teams.
The Great Lakes Girls Hockey League (GLGHL) is a girls travel league that includes teams from New York State, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
If you're a beginner, there are also many house leagues. And along with these teams, high school varsity teams like those at Starpoint and Kenmore also have been popping up.
Laura Stockman is a freshman at Kenmore West High School.