While growing up, Renee Hess wasn’t into sports, but as an adult she was hooked once she watched hockey.
“It was around 2011,” Hess recalled. “I started reading about it, listening to hockey games. I didn’t really watch them [on television] because it is hard to find them on regular television.”
“I worked up the nerve around 2015 to go to a live game,” the Californian added. “The reason I hadn’t been to one [before] is because I am not a huge sports fan in general.
“Discovering hockey, I dug my heels in,” Hess continued. But after attending a couple of NHL games, she discovered something else: “I would see Black men once in a while, but I never see two Black women together at a hockey game.”
As a result, Hess took to social media. “Being an academic, I started a research project. I created a survey and sent it out on social media to hockey fans who were of color. As I looked through the responses, I realized there were Black women hockey fans, quite a few, but a lot of them didn’t want to go to live games because they didn’t feel comfortable. They either had a bad experience or they were nervous.”
So Hess started the Black Girl Hockey Club (BGHC) last year. “I started reaching out to people and letting people know that I was going to Washington, D.C. to see a hockey game. I organized a meet-up of women in December of 2018,” she said.
Why the nation’s capital? “I decided to do the game in D.C. because the Capitols at the time had two Black players, two Black minority owners, and they just won the Stanley Cup [last season],” Hess responded. “We ended up getting together 45 women with their kids and families.”
Her BGHC earlier this year drew the attention of espnW, who did a feature article on the group, and Bill Douglas’ Color of Hockey also featured them. “His website is the go-to informative place for Black hockey fans and players,” Hess said. “I reached out to him if he knew some women in the area — because he was located in Washington, D.C. — who wanted to go to this game.”
After the Capitols game, more BGHC meetings were set up: the NHL All-Star Skills Competition and the NWHL All-Star Game in Nashville, and a game each with the two New York-based NHL clubs, the Rangers and the Islanders. The NHL national office also helped.
“It’s been a lot of fun really fast,” Hess said. She established a website (www.blackgirlhockeyclub.com) and posts regular articles.
A recent article featuring the Minnesota Wild’s Matt Dumba, one of the team’s two Blacks, is now on her site. He was an early supporter of BGHC, she reported.
Hess announced that she wants to expand the club’s get-togethers next season. “Minnesota is on my list to visit early in the season, maybe October or November. I’m a California native and can’t handle snow,” she admitted.
“I wanted initially a support system within the Black community, and particularly with women, to be able to talk about hockey with other women, to have these experiences with other Black women,” Hess said. “The hope is that we can keep building this community. We can share our love of hockey with one another and show the world we are out here.
“We love hockey just as much as the next person.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.