FOND DU LAC — In Fond du Lac, girls hockey is more than just a sport. It comes with a sense of community and teamwork both on the ice and in the locker rooms, specifically new locker rooms that opened this season.
The high school Warbirds team is one of several teams that utilize the Blue Line Ice Rink, but until Nov. 1, was the only high school team without a dedicated locker room.
The Warbirds attract players from not only Fond du Lac, but also Howards Grove, Kewaskum, Kiel, North Fond du Lac, Oakfield, Oshkosh, Ripon, Sheboygan and Waupun.
The rink also hosts girls teams for young children, from an under eight division to an under 14 division.
Fundraising for the renovation project began last spring, and in November the rink opened a full high school girls locker room and two smaller locker rooms for the younger divisions. The locker rooms come with their own private bathrooms and showers, and the high school girls locker room has cubbies for each of the players to store their skates, jerseys and other personal items.
Assistant coach Erik Spies said the project’s total cost was about $700,000, and while they’re still raising funds, a lot of support came from an anonymous donation.
Spies said this improvement will boost team morale.
“It'll make them proud of what they do or putting it on, feeling that they have a sense of unity, a sense of importance or their team,” Spies said. “I think it'll give them a sense of privacy and security. You know, they don't have to worry about people walking into the public locker rooms. They have their own safe space.”
Girls Hockey Director Christine Rottman said this was necessary because of the sport's growing popularity among young girls.
“It's almost doubled in size,” Rottman said. “About three seasons ago, we only had 11 players, well 12. 11 and a goalie. And now here we are with numbers this year at 28 or 29.”
She says girls have shown more interest in the program in recent years.
“Typically, the Olympics has a big play on our youth numbers,” Rottman said. “This is our first season offering A-level and B-level teams at certain age groups. So we've actually grown by two whole teams, just this season, on the youth side.”
The increased popularity of hockey among girls strikes a personal note for Rottman.
“Girls didn't play when I was younger,” Rottman said. “I think there was five girls in the whole association. So I was always that sibling tagging along. My brother was the one who played from age four on and my dad always coached. So I was here, just not on the ice, per se.”
She said the expanding program gives her hope for the future of the sport.
“I would say women everywhere, to follow what your passion is and show resilience and grit,” Rottman said. “Give me a team of 12 girls with grit any day you can do wonders.”
While the high school team is still relatively early in its season, they’re already eyeing a state title. And the younger girls teams are training hard to take their place on the Warbirds team one day.
“You never know what will walk through and when you keep those doors open,” Rottman said. “I think you're fulfilling dreams and aspirations. And who knows if it's a four year old on the ice today, but it could be somebody that 20 years from now you're watching the Olympics and you can say ‘I remember when.’”
The team is still looking to raise an additional $75,000. Donation information can be found on their website.