No More Leftovers
When she was 11 years old, Christina Lamey got kicked out of minor hockey in Cape Breton. Not because she was violent, or lacked talent. Because she was a girl. And the league didn't know what to do with her.
Written by Denise Withers.
"I lost everything that day. My identity. My friends. The game I'd been playing my whole life."
That experience lit a spark of anger that would smoulder for years before finally igniting a fire in her belly to change the game for girls in Nova Scotia for good.
"I realized what a sick scenario that was. Really, really bad. And so, there's no end to how much work I will put into this. Because I just saw it as so wrong, and until it's right, I won't quit."
Fast forward to 2015. Leijsa Wilton's 9-year-old daughter is one of two girls playing at a competitive level on a "mixed" team in the same region because there's nowhere else for her to go. Then, one day, someone tells her she shouldn't be there – that she's taking up a boy's spot.
"That was it for me," Leijsa recalls. "Who tells like a little kid something like that?"
That's how Christina and Leijsa came to be two of Nova Scotia's biggest champions for equal access to hockey for girls. Their goal was simple.
"If you sign up for hockey, you should get to play. If it's any more complicated than that, you're screwing it up."
Although the issue of access is complex and influenced by culture, politics and finance, they've identified one core premise to use as a lever for change. If a rink is accessing public funds - and all rinks do at some point - then access to the rink must be equitable.
Using this as their focus, they've had incredible success over the last ten years.
Enough is enough
As the President of the women's hockey league in Halifax, Christina helped the sport grow from 8 to 28 teams in ten years. How? By finding a woman inside the municipal government who was sympathetic. The staffer took the issue to the City Council, which was shocked to discover the women were being shut out and implemented a community access policy for all publicly funded rinks. But the problem persisted elsewhere.
Years later, when she returned to Cape Breton, Christina took her daughter back to the rink she'd been kicked out of as a child, to sign her up for hockey. And she was horrified to see that nothing had changed. Not only were there few opportunities for girls, but boys were actually taking the puck away from girls on their own team during games. Only three girls' teams existed in the entire region – and all were run reluctantly by boys' leagues.
So she started a new team.
Meanwhile, Leijsa was doing the same thing for her daughter. Eventually, they broke free and became part of a standalone female hockey association, despite massive opposition and dirty tactics from the other minor hockey organizations that were afraid of losing control over the game.
By 2021, they'd proven that they could create and run effective programs so girls could play hockey at any level. But, it was still a struggle to get ice time. They were stuck.
That's when they discovered the Future of Hockey Lab – a six-month innovation program where they could join six other projects to find ways to shift the culture of hockey.
Designing a better future with the FHL
Their Lab journey started that fall at a two-day event that opened their eyes to both the scale of the problem they faced – and the opportunity to create collective impact.
Listening to the stories of the others, Leijsa and Christina realized that they all shared the same problem. Most of the other Lab participants represented groups who were also being systemically excluded from hockey and were trying to start new programs to make it more accessible. Yet, even if they could overcome barriers like equipment and registration, they would also need ice time.
The success of Christina and Leijsa's project, "No more leftovers", would be foundational to the success of the others.
With the support of their innovation coach, the pair worked through a series of creative and analytical activities to generate ideas about how best to move forward. Importantly, they also explored how to test their ideas - or prototype them - in a quick way that would allow them to learn what works without making big bets right upfront.
Based on their findings, they decided to build on Christina's success in Halifax and target their municipal government. It owned 3 of the 10 rinks in town, offering a total of 111 hours of prime ice time to local teams each week. Only 1 of those 111 hours went to girls hockey. Yet, the ratio of girls to boys playing was 1:3.
Even though they had the facts on their side, Christina and Leijsa knew it was going to be tough to shift this deeply entrenched practice of ice allocation on their own – to overcome issues of grandfathering, entitlement, discrimination and a scarcity mindset.
So, they used innovation tools like back-casting to come up with a multi-pronged approach. Essentially, they created a vision of their ideal future, then reverse-engineered it to identify key milestones they'd have to hit to be successful.
This helped them develop two additional plans.
Taking action for real system change
First, they decided to continue their strategy of making system change by focusing on public policy and took their fight to the province. Again, they reasoned that most rinks receive provincial funds at some point to operate and that no politician could make a case for continuing to restrict access to ice time to just support boys' hockey. Plus, it was becoming clear new rinks would need to be built, which would require provincial support.