Adios, Outlaws. Farewell, Fillies.
Chatham-Kent’s two female hockey organizations are merging in an effort to put more players on the ice.
The Chatham Girls Hockey Association and the Kent County Girls Hockey Association announced Wednesday they’ll create the Chatham-Kent Girls Hockey Association next season.
The new mascot and team colours will be chosen through a contest.
Officials from both groups began talking in the summer about how to strengthen girls hockey in Chatham-Kent.
“Both organizations are struggling with numbers, getting enough girls out to play,” KCGHA president Tim DeMaeyer said. “So when we started discussing things, everything just kind of fit and now we’re putting it all together as a partnership.
“It’s needed. It’s at that point where it’s time to make girls hockey strong in Chatham-Kent again.”
The Chatham Outlaws are down to five travel teams and one house-league team this season. The Kent County Fillies have four travel teams and one house-league team.
“We’ve each had to turn away girls because we didn’t have enough to make a team,” CGHA president Jessica Tufford said. “And there’s probably opportunities to have had more teams if we were working together instead of sending girls outside of the community to play.”
DeMaeyer estimates the Fillies turned away 15 players this season.
“If we were one group, there might have been another ‘C’ team or there might have been a house-league team for these girls to play in,” he said. “Instead, they had to go back to either not playing at all or they had to play boys hockey.”
The partnership has been endorsed by the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association.
“If we brought the two associations together right now, we’d have about 200 registered players,” Tufford said.
The Fillies coaches support the move, DeMaeyer said.
“Coaches understand what needs to be done,” he said. “They understand in the end it comes down to making sure all these girls have a place to play hockey, and the coaches are all for it.
“For some of them, it’s a little bittersweet because you’re a Filly for life. But they understand that financially and to make things work properly for these girls up and coming, it has to be done.”
The selection process for the 2019-20 coaches will begin in February. Team tryouts are scheduled to start in April.
“What my hope would be is that we can offer a travel team and a house league team … at each (age) level,” Tufford said.
There are no geographic boundaries for girls hockey in Ontario, so the Outlaws have always had players from the county and the Fillies have always had players from Chatham.
“We’re unified as a group,” DeMaeyer said. “It is Chatham-Kent Girls Hockey now. It’s not Chatham, it’s not Kent County.
“But in the end, it’s all about a home for these girls to play hockey and getting them to have a good calibre of hockey as well for the girls that are going to play at a higher level. In the end, it is still about making sure there is somewhere for everyone to play.”