Rolph skates past stigma of women’s hockey

From left to right: Nash McDonald, Nick Shoman and Kinsley Rolph. Rolph began playing hockey in high school and experienced her share of marginalization, yet she said she has found a more welcoming attitude amongst Chapman’s co-ed team. KALI HOFFMAN Photo Editor

It ran in the family. But growing up, Chapman freshman Kinsley Rolph didn’t want much to do with hockey. Her father Brian played, was infatuated with the sport and wanted his daughter to play, so he tried to teach her how to skate as soon as she could walk. But Rolph found more beauty in the smaller things. She would get dressed up in full gear, only to find herself lying down on the ice.

“I was just slowly skating down (the ice), to create snowflakes between my cage and the ice,” Rolph said.

She was a dancer for 16 years and tried many different sports growing up: karate, swimming, diving, soccer and horseback riding. But still, never hockey.

Only when Rolph got to high school, friends of hers told her to try out for the team, despite the fact that she had never played before. But she learned from her friends, she learned from her coach – who, during practice, would stand at the boards and let Rolph skate at him as fast as she could so she’d learn how to stop properly. It wasn’t easy, primarily because of the marginalizing comments she’d receive as a result of her chosen sport.

“They say, ‘Oh, you’re so small, don’t you get checked into the boards?’ ‘How do you play?’ ‘That’s very aggressive,’ and that sort of feels like they’re undermining me as a female,” Rolph said. “I’m going to just play a sport like any other person would.”

So she kept playing that sport, like any other person would, continuing into her time at Chapman. Yet here, Rolph had to learn hockey all over again – this time, what it meant to play with teammates of a different gender. Chapman’s hockey team is co-ed, which leads to a different style of play.

“Girls are very aggressive, but in girls’ hockey we can’t check, so it’s a lot different play-wise. We can be physical, but it’s a lot more under the radar,” Rolph said. “I’ve realized in boys’ hockey, playing it, that they don’t do it under the radar – it’s very blatantly obvious when they go for a hit.”

She had to adjust off the ice as well because while Chapman’s team is technically co-ed, she pointed out that it’s still very much a men’s team. The apparel she received was all in men’s sizes. The team’s even listed as “Men’s Hockey” on the Chapman Athletics page. Most of all, she feels she’s missing out on the pregame locker-room conversations she could be having with her team.

“I change in a different locker room, so I’m missing that aspect of the game,” Rolph said. “Locker room chats before the game, getting ready and getting out of your equipment before and after games – that’s a great way of bonding with the team.”

There’s a documented history of inequality and discrimination against female hockey players. In March 2017, the U.S. national women’s hockey team boycotted the International Ice Hockey Federation world championship to fight for equal pay and benefits that the men’s team was receiving. On a smaller scale, a Nov. 2018 piece by Kyla Lane of the Women’s Hockey Life (WHL) foundation described the experiences she’d had playing in men’s recreational leagues – including being blown kisses and receiving a bevy of insults and condescending comments. However, Rolph has found Chapman’s team as a whole to be friendly and accepting.

“I was very nervous about not being able to find my place, because sometimes it can seem like they’re very manly men, but they were all very welcoming and they just love to see girls play a sport they also love,” Rolph said. “They all have a certain amount of respect for us to just go into this league. It’s amazing to see that they respect that and just see us as another player on their team and a partner on their line.”

She’s come a long way from wheeling around on the ice, watching snowflakes fall from the skid of her skate. And her father, who first pushed her to play, is grateful she’s taking the opportunity to be a part of Chapman’s team.

“My dad came to visit me two weeks ago and he was crying when he saw me playing, because this was just a breaking point for him,” Rolph said. “He always wanted me to try and play hockey. He tried to give it up, and then him seeing me play in college was really amazing.”

After jumping between sports throughout her life, Rolph’s found her team and community within Chapman hockey. Yet after the subtle criticism she’s received throughout her life, she believes stigma surrounding women in sports needs to change. Back in her hometown of Boston, she worked with the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) as an advocate for Title IX – a law barring the exclusion of participation in education programs or activities on the basis of sex, which includes school sports – something that brings her pride.

“A lot of girls got to find out how they could play a male sport even though they were a female,” Ralph said of her experience with the MIAA. “That does not hinder their ability to play any sport and just shows people that, ‘Just because I’m a girl, doesn’t mean that I can’t go out and play football or I can’t go out and play soccer.’”