Participation in ringette continues to grow in Winnipeg, thanks as much to old blood as new.
Along with an influx of new players trying out the sport for the first time at the bunny (under-9) and novice (under-10) levels, the Winnipeg Ringette League’s Open Divisions continue to expand as players keep lacing up their skates well into their thirties, forties and even fifties.
The total number of registered players has been steadily increasing since the turn of the century, with last season’s 3,603 players about 1,000 more than the total back in 2000, said WRL spokesman Al Gowriluk.
In the North Winnipeg Ringette Association, there are a record 10 teams registered this season, with four of them in the Open (18-plus) Divisions.
"It’s a testament that ringette is a sport for life," Gowriluk said. "Many of these ladies have played ringette as children and teenagers, hung up the skates to have families and careers, and come back themselves. And they’ve got their daughters in the game as well."
Louise Dowhan-Bertouille followed that path except for one difference: she hasn’t taken a single season off since 1972, even while having two children.
"I had two very short seasons," said the 47-year-old North Kildonan resident, who plays in the Open 3 Division with a group of about five players who have been together since they were teenagers. "I can honestly say I didn’t miss a complete season."
Dowhan-Bertouille started out as a seven-year-old at Bronx Park Community Centre and later played at North Kildonan Community Centre. She says the social aspect of the sport has kept her coming back year after year to play with her old friends.
And her time at the rink has only increased in recent years, as her 18-year-old daughter, Kelsey, has played ringette since she was six years old.
"We gave her an option when she started skating to take up figure skating, ringette or hockey, and she chose ringette," Dowhan-Bertouille said.
"A lot of mother-daughter combos are both playing," Gowriluk said. "It shows we have a lot of players coming back, and bringing their kids with them."
Dowhan-Bertouille was happy her daughter chose ringette over figure skating because of the team aspect of the game, and the ability to keep playing well into adulthood.
"I think one of the advantages is the adult division we have available so it can be a lifelong sport and activity," she said. "It’s important for girls to be part of a team sport, for that sense of how to work together."
In Gowriluk’s experience, many young girls give the sport a try because of its speed, and the lack of contact.
"It’s predominantly a female sport, which interests some girls," he said. "A lot of them have ringette friends and school friends and they cherish both of them."