Five years ago, I tried out for a new hockey team. When I walked through the glass doors of the ice rink for tryouts, I saw a girl trying out for the same team. I instantly recognized her as I had played against her in years past; I knew she was a tough competitor. In fact, I vividly recalled the intense game in which she checked me on a breakaway that would have enabled my team to take the lead, had I scored. Fast forward five years after the tryouts, Grace is still on the Valley Forge Minutemen with me, and she has turned out to be one of my best friends and a great hockey player.
When Grace and I started playing hockey together, we clicked on and off the ice, quickly becoming friends. Grace was the only girl on the team surrounded by 16 boys. This proved to be very interesting, to say the least. Many on the team were used to an all-boy locker room, so when Grace joined the team, we made some minor modifications. Additionally many tried to avoid being paired with Grace during drills because they somehow thought it was better to be with other boys. Deep down I think they knew how good she was and they were afraid that she would beat them (and she did). I made sure I paired up with Grace, as I knew it would make me a better player, and boy, was I right.
As immature behavior continued from some of the boys on the team, it really started to wear on me and made me upset. I knew I had to be a leader and leverage the values I learned at home and at my Quaker school. I knew I needed to support all of my teammates, including Grace, and ensure all were treated equally and with due respect. I would purposely seek Grace out on partner drills in practice and regularly sat next to her on the bench and in the locker room. Some of our team members would have get-togethers and, many times, did not include the whole team. I caught onto this pretty quickly and would always include Grace by inviting her over to my house with other teammates. I really enjoyed hanging out with her. The fact is that Grace and I had a lot of the same interests and ideas which made her a really easy person to talk with and get along with. We would watch the Flyers and play hours of knee hockey in my basement. These knee hockey games were always close, competitive games that usually ended with a nail-biting finish. I have never seen Grace as a girl on our team, I have always seen her as a teammate, a friend, and a formidable hockey player. I could easily see that she made me a better hockey player and person.
By the time Grace and I became teammates, I had finished four years of Quaker education. Throughout these years, I learned that everyone is equal no matter their race, religion, gender, or place in society. Growing up with this Quaker value taught me to treat everyone fairly and to stick up for others when they were not being treated well. Being a good teammate to Grace created a prime opportunity for me to live these Quaker values and testimonies.
Grace and I have shared many great memories together over the years. At times, we have been fondly referred to as “Will and Grace” based on the popular sitcom. We also played on many of the same hockey tournament teams, including Team Pennsylvania. On that team, Grace and I participated in a huge hockey tournament called the Brick. Grace was one of three girls out of 224 total players at that tournament, which is a huge accomplishment. We enthusiastically acknowledge and celebrate all of her awesome accomplishments. There is something indescribable about watching your friends succeed.
Last year, Grace participated in a tournament in Quebec on a team called the Hershey Bears. Sadly, we were not on the same team in this tournament because I played for the New York Rangers. Grace again was the only girl on that team, and she again made a huge impact on her team’s success. One of the highlights was when she made the game-winning shootout goal for Hershey, helping her team advance to the next round. Grace has often demonstrated the best forehand to backhand moves in shootouts. Even though this was a remarkable accomplishment, Grace did not brag about it to others, being the humble person that she is. Her humility is something I will always admire.
It is true that girls do not typically advance and make it this far in AAA ice hockey. However, with Grace’s work ethic, talent, physical ability, and mental toughness, she continues to rise to the top of the AAA talent pool. Grace remains one of the best defenders on our team, scoring and assisting consistently. Luckily, her assists are often to me, because Grace and I have developed a great deal of chemistry over the years due to our friendship. Not only does she have a tremendous impact on the ice, but also off the ice with her positive demeanor and attitude.
For many years to come, I will no doubt be one of Grace’s biggest supporters. The day that she makes the U.S. Olympic hockey team, which I am certain she will, I will be the first person to book a flight and buy tickets to cheer her on (hopefully Grace can help a friend out with the tickets part). I will be by her side every step of the way and continue to be her biggest fan. From my friendship with Grace, I have learned that regardless of a person’s gender, race, or religion, every person deserves respect no matter what. We are not all that different. On game days, for example, we all wear the same skates and the same team jersey, we use the same sticks, and we play the same sport.
Today, our team locker room is very inclusive of every member of our team. It is rewarding to think that I may have had a positive impact by rightfully supporting Grace as much as any other teammate on our team. Kindness is contagious. I believe people pick up on these positive actions whether they are willing to admit it or not. No matter what, all teammates deserve respect. I am very proud to call Grace my teammate and, more importantly, my lifelong friend.