Latest Black Girl Hockey Club scholarship winners ‘hope to inspire other girls to play’

Makayla Avotri knew how she wanted to answer an important question about her hockey career.

The 12-year-old from Brampton was one of four recipients of the Black Girl Hockey Club’s GTA scholarship program, which volunteered to help improve numbers and playing opportunities for black girls by offsetting the costs of playing the sport. .

“I would like to inspire and help other girls play hockey,” Avotri said.

There were 13 recipients in North America for a fall scholarship, ranging from $ 1,000 to $ 5,000.

Avotri was joined in the GTA by Akeeliah Graham, a 15-year-old mainstay of the Scarborough Sharks organization; Willow Poppleton, a 17-year-old forward from Pickering; and Gem Winter, a 10-year-old from Scarborough who can play both forward and defense.

They are the latest recipients of the scholarship program for black women ages nine to 18, launched by founder Renee Hess and others in August 2020.

“Renee lives in California, and she was going to hockey games … when she realized she was the only black person in the stands,” program manager Isabel Graham told the Star.

Hess began connecting with other people of color on social media, and that led to the idea of ​​helping black girls get into the sport and with families trying to cover the expenses involved in playing hockey, Graham said.

“It’s an expensive sport to play,” Graham said. “So one of the ways that (the organization) can help is to offset the expense through donations and the scholarship.”

With applications coming from across Canada and the United States, and as far away as Kenya, the BGHC has now allocated $ 61,000 in scholarships to 39 girls from around the world, Graham said.

Graham added that the scholarship money comes directly from donations, while the Calgary Flames donated $ 2,000 to two girls who play in one of the team’s programs. Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean also donated proceeds from his work on the latest show “Battle of the Blades.”

Scholarships are available three times a year and Graham said applications for the winter program are now open, with a deadline of December 31st.

Here’s a look at the last four GTA recipients:

Akeeliah Graham, one of the Black Girl Hockey Club scholarship winners, began playing hockey at age nine with the Scarborough Sharks.

Akeeliah graham

Graham started playing hockey at age nine with the Scarborough Sharks and recalls that she “didn’t know anything about hockey. … I was offside a lot, I didn’t score and skated against the boards often, ”he said.

But Graham now feels like “all the mistakes I made helped me improve at hockey.”

Graham enrolled in Canlan Ice Sports camps and improved to the point where she won several Most Dedicated Player medals, an MVP award, as well as being named captain.

“There are no days off. Sometimes I want to take a day off, but Akeeliah never missed games and practices, ”said Graham’s mother, Monique.

Graham is aiming to play for the Toronto Six, representing Team Canada at the Olympics, and wants to guide younger girls entering the sport, including her two sisters.

“There are other black girls who want to play hockey but don’t know where to start,” said Graham, who is on the honor roll at Bill Crothers High School in Markham.

Willow Poppleton, one of the 2021 Black Girl Hockey Club scholarship winners, is aiming to play college and study to become a veterinarian.

Willow poppleton

Poppleton said he got into hockey because his brother, Nathaniel, was playing.

Poppleton, who grew up playing on boys’ teams, also said she wants to make sure she’s “there” to help other girls play hockey. His father, Garth, and his mother, Tanya, “never missed a game and were always there when he needed a shoulder to cry on.”

Poppleton has played for a variety of teams, but now attends St. Mary’s Catholic School, while playing for Leaside Juniors. Poppleton’s goal is to play college hockey and study to become a vet.

He said he never thought he would win a BGHC scholarship.

“But it will help me do better and inspire younger girls to play hockey,” she said. “I think about it because I didn’t have a female inspiration when I was young. So that girls now see that they can play hockey and better, that’s important, and it’s at a time when people think, ‘don’t put your kids on hockey.’

“I think that for my color, being the only black girl in most of the teams I played for, it was sometimes difficult … and now, for other black girls to know what I’ve been through, how not to see anyone with my hair type, and not winning championships, is important. Now, there are a lot of black girls across Canada, and if I need to vent or talk to them, they are there. “

Makayla Avotri, one of the Black Girl Hockey Club scholarship winners, wants "inspire and help other girls to play hockey."

Makayla avotri

Avotri loves to play defense for the Mississauga Hurricanes.

“I can prevent the other team from scoring and help my team score,” he said.

Avotri entered hockey through the “First Shift” program sponsored by Canadian Tire. Now in seventh grade, the Brampton native said her favorite player is Leafs star Auston Matthews.

Avotri’s mother, Vivian Amoah, credits Brampton Canadettes coach Chris French with “being the first to see his potential.”

Avotri has a twin, Jaden, and an eight-year-old brother, Nathan. After she learned that she would be receiving the scholarship, Avotri said that “it was good to know that there are other black girls playing hockey. I’d like to help other girls with hockey. “

After learning she was one of the 2021 Black Girl Hockey Cub scholarship winners, Gen Winter said that made her want to play hockey more and more.

Winter gem

Winter is the type of player that all coaches want, as she is very versatile on the ice.

“They’re changing me, and sometimes I play forward, and sometimes I play defensively,” said 10-year-old Scarborough AA member Ice Raiders.

“I think I’m better at scoring, but I feel more comfortable when I play defense.”

Winter started playing hockey at age four, in large part because he saw his brother, Daniel, play, “and I thought he was really good.”

Winter finds it “difficult sometimes” when she’s the only black girl on her team, but she also finds hockey to be “a lot of fun.”

She was ecstatic when she was named a recipient of the BGHC scholarship.

“I was very happy and very grateful,” Winter said. “It makes me want to play hockey more and more.”

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