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Making the merge, part four: Don't forget about the girls

Girls rep sports often face the challenges that are exacerbated by the smaller pool of players.
Girls rep sports often face the same challenges as boys rep: struggles to be competitive and difficulties finding coaches.

In a municipality divided against itself, many Delta sports teams are struggling to remain competitive against their more populous neighbours. This month, we’re looking at how associations are keeping teams going – and why many are deciding to join forces. (Click here to read part onepart two and part three.)

Emily Bancroft was practicing with her soccer team at Dennis Elsom Turf in North Delta. The rain soaked into the synthetic turf, and the bright lights above the field reflected off the slippery soccer ball.

Technically, the fall season was over. But the SurDel U13 gold team — Bancroft’s rep team — had a wild card spot in the Coastal Cup, and the girls needed to practice.

Soccer is Bancroft’s conditioning sport. She’s really a softball player at heart, and has been since Grade 4 when she was first introduced to the sport. The 12-year-old Devon Gardens Elementary student has played rep softball for four years with Delta Heat, and only recently started playing rep soccer to maintain her training.

“Softball played to all my strengths,” she said. Plus, “I like the sun a lot more than the rain.”

Bancroft plans to play in the 2024 Olympics on the Canadian softball team — and because of that, she has some pretty strong opinions about the differences between men and women athletes.

Professional female athletes don’t make as much money as male athletes, Bancroft said, and men’s sports have a much stronger cultural presence.

She notices the same situation trickling down into her own experience as a rep player in community sports associations.

“People, they want to go out and watch the boys, they talk more about boys sports,” she said.

“I think in Delta ... people tend to care more about the boys sports and boys associations, and how they can build up those, rather than our associations.”

Both of Bancroft’s associations are predominately female: SurDel is the girls’ soccer club and Delta Heat, now the Delta Fastpitch Association, developed into an all-girl association by happenstance years before.

But her comment about a community emphasis on boys sport begs the question: what effect will Delta’s merging sports associations have on girls teams? For Susan Chan, Bancroft’s mother and director of SurDel, a merge between the North Delta Soccer Association and SurDel wouldn’t work. Although neither association is considering a merge, she feels the idea would be detrimental to the girls.

“I think it’s important to keep girls clubs as girls clubs,” she said. “Ultimately, I think girls just fit better with girls. Of course, with soccer, whether you’re talking to Coastal or even South Delta now [which host both male and female teams]. Yes, you’re all one club. But usually we know what happens.

“Men will always dominate, or boys will dominate. There’s more numbers.”

However, SurDel is unique in that it is a female-only association. It has fairly stable registration numbers, Chan said, and is able to hold its own in competitions.

Other associations, like the Delta Lacrosse Association, were barely able to scrape a girls team together before they merged.

“Prior to amalgamation ... we just weren’t able to put out one team in one association, let alone trying to do it for the whole municipality,” said Darcy Philips, president of the Delta Lacrosse Association.

If a player signed up for lacrosse in North Delta, she wouldn’t be able to sign up for the South Delta association. If North Delta didn’t have enough ath- letes for a team, she would be out of luck.

For Phillips, being able to field more girls teams was one of the enticements for merging the two associations.

It seems to have worked.

Since the Delta Lacrosse Association merged in 2015, the girls lacrosse teams have improved their standings from having no points — and no teams — in 2014 to having a total of 35 points between two teams in 2016.

The total number of teams has also increased, Phillips said. In the 2017 season, the Delta Lacrosse Association was able to put out a Novice and a Midget team. It was also five players short of putting out a Pewee team and three players short of putting out a Bantam team.

According to Edina Beeby, the female division manager for Delta Lacrosse, “we were super close to putting out a team in every single division this year.”

This increase is good for two reasons.

The first is that having more teams makes sport more accessible for girls.

Around 13 or 14 is “a really key age demographic where girls drop out of sports for good,” said Stephanie Rudnisky, director-at-large for the women’s sport advocacy group ProMOTION Plus.

“When you get cut from a team, a lot of the time that’s the end of their sport career. So it’s finding a way to give everyone the knowledge of how to keep them involved and how to offer other programs.”

By having more opportunities for girls to play, and being able to offer more than one rep team, girls are more likely to continue playing in some capacity.

The second reason why having more teams benefits associations is that having more teams leads to being more competitive.

Compare the Delta Lacrosse Association, which had two girls teams in 2016, to Ridge Meadows Minor Lacrosse Association, which had nine.

Although the individual teams might be able to compete against each other — the two Ridge Meadow Novice teams had 29 and 38 points each, while Delta had 26 — the association as a whole struggles to compare.

It’s the same impetus that pushes boys rep teams to merge. More players mean more teams, and those are often better, more specialized teams. Better teams makes the association more attractive, which in turn brings in more players. In girls sport, it has the added bonus of inspiring higher participation for girls who haven’t started playing yet.

“If more teams were starting to get more success, then more TV producers would put those games on TV,and then they would get talked about more,and then soon we would be almost as equal as the boys,” Bancroft said. “Maybe not completely, but close.”

If more girls sports were on television, she reasoned, then more girls would want to play.

“I know a lot of girls in my class, they don’t play any sports. But almost all the boys in my class do.” she said.

“If you could get girls more interested in sports, then that would go a long way. Because there’s a lot of girls with potential that just don’t want to (play).”