DARIEN, Ill. – Victoria Blake spends her nights and weekends on the ice.
“I like skating fast, honestly, because when the wind goes in your face, it cools you down.”
The Blake family wasn’t initially a hockey family with their Jamaican roots, but that didn’t sway any interest Victoria had in playing.
“Probably when I was two or three, I saw hockey players skating around the ice. I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh! That must be so much fun.’ So, I asked my mom. We tried it out and here I am today.”
However, while watching those hockey players, Victoria made an early observation.
“When she was roughly around eight years old, she would ask, ‘Dad, I love hockey but why is it that I’m the only one that looks like me in the entire building?'” explained Victoria’s father Orane. “As a Dad, I had to explain to her, ‘Hey, you know what? It’s ok. God made people different – different heights, different weights, different eye colors, different hair colors. It’s ok.’ But, as a child – as an eight year old – that’s an intellectual answer to an emotional question that she’s having.”
It was then that the Blake family discovered the Black Girl Hockey Club, founded by Renee Hess in 2018 to create a community space for Black women in hockey at any age or skill level, both in the U.S. and Canada.
“I was actually pretty surprised because I thought I was just one of the few Black people who played hockey. But, when I saw millions of faces, I’m like ‘Wow! I’m not the only one.'”
“It creates a sense of identity among the girls because they don’t see themselves represented in the community of hockey,” Orane noted. “Being able to give them that visibility or mirror and say, ‘Hey, you guys are not that different. There are many other girls just like you. You can aspire to be just like them.'”
Black Girl Hockey Club awards a number of scholarships each year to help with the financial commitment to hockey and encourage Black women to pursue the sport they love. Victoria is a scholarship recipient along with Chicago native, Noa Diop, who’s living and playing in France in order to be eligible to play for the French U16 national team.
“I believe an organization like that is extremely important, especially because when I was younger, I used to almost feel like I was the odd one out because there was no other Black girl hockey players,” remarked Diop. “I feel an organization like this really helps us come together and makes us aware that, ‘Yes, there is a Black girl community in hockey and yes we are just as good as everyone else. We’ve got you. We’ve got your back and we’re here to support you.'”
The club connected both Victoria and Noa to Canadian pro hockey player and Yale alum Saroya Tinker, who serves as the club’s executive director.
“[She] reached out to me and my family and talked about mentoring me because one of my dreams since I’ve been young is to go to Yale,” Diop explained. “Kind of being almost like an older sister – seeing as though I don’t have one – who would help me further my hockey career and also with universities further on.”
Just like Tinker inspired both Noa and Victoria, Noa is hoping to do the same for Black girls pursuing their love of hockey.
“Obviously, I’m not well known, I still feel like I’m trailblazing, setting a path for future Black hockey players and just female hockey players in general who are as good as boys and who can go as far and have fantastic hockey careers.”