Olympian Bye happy to see progress for female players As interest grows, so does number of participants

May 19, 1998|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

The numbers reveal how far women's hockey has come since Karyn Bye -- a member of the gold medal-winning U.S. team in Nagano -- began playing at the age of 7.

According to USA Hockey, 12,873 girls under the age of 12 play hockey, more than half of the females registered with the organization and twice the number of all females registered seven years ago.

Some will be attending Bye's clinic tonight from 5 to 7 at Gardens Ice House, 13800 Old Gunpowder Rd. in Laurel, one of a series of promotions she is doing for the NHL.

It is this -- more than ticker-tape parades in her hometown of River Falls, Wis., invitations to the Grammys or pictures on Wheaties boxes -- that shows the battle is being won.

"All of the women on the Olympic team had to play with the boys at some point in their career," Bye said. "Now there's more opportunity for girls to play with other girls, so they're not having to change their names from Kelly to Kevin."

When Bye, 26, began playing ice hockey, the situation was much different, and the only acceptable ice move for a girl was a triple-toe loop as opposed to a check.

Because of this, she began her hockey experience posing as her older brother and ended up using her first two initials, K.L., instead of her name so that the boys she played against wouldn't target her.

There was only the 1980 U.S. Olympic men's hockey team to look up to -- no Karyn Byes at the Grammys or on the "Today" show -- so she emulated Bill Baker, a participant in the first "Miracle on Ice."

Though she says that the tougher road made her a tougher person, she also expresses relief that it's a road fewer girls have to take.

"There's nothing wrong with girls having men for role models, but it's better to look up to a female role model," Bye said. "They say, 'I can go somewhere with this; I want to be like Karyn Bye.' It motivates women, gives them confidence and an opportunity."

There may be no more evidence for this than at the Garden Ice House, home of several teams in the Baltimore-Washington area.

The rink's general manager, Tom Hendrix, said women's hockey has been part of the rink's mission since it opened in the summer of 1996, with substantive chunks of ice time set aside for women and girls.

"There's always been a sprinkling of girls skating," Hendrix said, "but the Olympics have added a thrust to the movement, where now you don't have to play with the boys."

Pub Date: 5/19/98

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