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Burning Up The Ice

The trifecta that launched a girl's hockey team.



Peggy Garbus

In 1996, three-year-old Christie Huidekoper was laced into a pair of white figure skates and stepped gingerly out onto the ice. For the next two winters she glided, wobbled, and fell—time and again—before throwing in the towel. “I was really bad at figure skating,” recalled Huidekoper. “So, I switched to hockey skates, which were a lot easier.”

Lara Schnitzler’s figure-skating career was equally short-lived. “I was a tomboy at five and didn’t like the pink outfits.” The following year, she swapped her skating dress for a jersey, joined the boy’s hockey team at Ridgefield’s Winter Garden Ice Arena, and met Huidekoper. And then, soon after, Sam.

“Apparently, I roller bladed all over the house when I was young,” said Samantha Blicht, who played on the boys’ kindergarten team. A grade younger than Huidekoper and Schnitzler, Blicht wouldn’t compete alongside her two new friends until middle school.

The three honed their skills over the next four winters, increasing their speed and enduring their share of knocks. While their male teammates were supportive, players on competing teams often were not. “As soon as the boys would see our pony tails, they’d bump us to the ground,” said Blicht. “It made us tough.” It wasn’t long before the trio became a tour de force on the ice.

“Playing on the boys’ team was the highest athleticism we could achieve,” Huidekoper said. “You had to be as fast as they were and learn to shoot as well as them. It was hard to lift the puck at first; my little spaghetti arms couldn’t do it for the longest time.”

When the skaters turned 11 and the game became a full-contact sport, Schnitzler, Huidekoper, and Blicht had to find a new home. Their agility and speed made them attractive additions to the Connecticut Stars, a girls’ club team comprised primarily of prep-school athletes who also played on their schools’ hockey teams. The prep-school players were strong and competitive, and as Blicht neared high school, she found herself wanting to join them. Not eager to have her daughter leave home, Blicht’s mother encouraged her to start a team at Wilton High School instead.
 

Blicht enlisted Huidekoper and Schnitzler, and the three girls set out to create something new. Citing Title IX—a federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender in schools that receive federal funding—they contended that if a boys’ ice hockey team existed at the high school, so should a girls’. The administration consented to the formation of the new team provided that the girls could recruit enough players. The minimum number needed was fifteen. Twenty joined.

Former WHS Athletic Director, Christy Hayes, hired coach Kerry Leonard, and the team officially launched in 2008. But ice time was costly and not in the school budget. “Uniforms were donated by the boys’ team, but we had to raise a good amount of money to cover ice time, which is expensive,” said Blicht. Between Booster Club fundraisers, parental support, and player-orchestrated bake sales and car washes, the funds emerged.

Nonetheless, that first year proved challenging. “I remember being on the ice and wondering, What did we get ourselves into?” Schnitzler says. “There were all these girls skating around not knowing what they were doing. Half the team had never strapped on skates other than recreationally.” With coaching and practice the group coalesced, making it to the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference in Huidekoper and Schnitzler’s senior year.

Last year, twenty-seven girls tried out for the team, which now includes players from Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk. Twenty-four of them were WHS students. “Most coaches carry 20 girls on their roster,” said current coach, Melissa Hawkins. “We had an extra seven, so instead of cutting kids, we formed a J.V. team.”  The players even have their own home rink and locker room at the Sono Ice House.

In addition to leaving a legacy that continues to thrive, Huidekoper, Schnitzler and Blicht gained some valuable wisdom from their experience. “I learned that it doesn’t take 20 girls to start something,” Huidekoper said. “It takes three. You don’t have to have it all figured out. I didn’t know who, besides us, would want to play hockey and suddenly twenty girls signed up. Even though they’d never played before, girls wanted to help start the team and be a part of history at Wilton High School.”

Now well into college, the ladies still burn up the ice on Kent Pond when home for the winter break. “It’s my favorite time of year,” said Huidekoper. “It’s mainly boys’ hockey again, which we like.”

Does the trio still womp the guys? “Oh yeah.”

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