The first girls to play ringette 50 years ago in Espanola, Ont. wore different coloured arm bands to distinguish what positions they occupied on the ice. When they ended their shifts, they would have to stop and remove the ribbons so they could be tied on the arms of the girls replacing them.
When some Red Deer mothers helped to bring the sport to the city for a group of 11-year-old girls in 1978, colour coding was used here too.
The broken hockey sticks requisitioned for the games were painted white for centres, blue for forwards, and red for defenders. The girls donned red sweatshirts and grey sweatpants for the games, wearing volleyball kneepads and figure skates.
The game was created by a group of municipal recreation directors in Northern Ontario 50 years ago in response to a lack of winter recreational opportunities for girls.
At first, it was intended to be played, like floor hockey, in gymnasiums, but it ended up being played on ice, becoming a winter sport that hundreds of thousands of girls have played in the last five decades.
Ringette associations across the country have been celebrating the golden anniversary all year, among the events held a 50-hour game played in the southern Alberta hamlet of Indus last month.
In Red Deer, players past and present celebrated the occasion Saturday with outdoor and indoor games, food, and memory sharing at St. Francis of Assisi Middle School.
Wendy Glover started playing in the mid-1980s, coming to the sport from figure skating in search of a team-based, competitive outlet. Hockey for girls in Big Valley was not considered as a viable option at that time, so ringette was the choice.
While more young Canadian girls play hockey than ringette now, the sport still is widely-enjoyed in this country and in a handful of other northern nations.
Glover, now president of Red Deer Ringette, said the sport features more passing and more strategy than its icy counterpart. Defensive strategy in ringette and basketball can be similar, and a 30-second shot clock was recently introduced for the game.
“That’s sped up the game. What that teaches players is that you have to pass, you have to move it forward, you can’t just diddle-daddle in the neutral zone,” said Glover.
Kallie Loewen, 14, started playing six years ago after a friend told her it was fun to play.
Now suiting up for one of the association’s two under-16 teams, she is not only a believer, but she has also converted others.
“My grandma, she was a hockey fanatic, and she watched one game of ringette and fell in love with it and likes it better than hockey now,” said Loewen.
Loewen’s team has only lost once this year, a record she thinks puts the team in a good position to claim a provincial title in 2014.
There are now over 20 teams playing in Red Deer. While the sport remains primarily a female domain, some boys play on Red Deer teams.