KENTWOOD, Mich.-- It's traditionally a male-dominated sport. But, more and more girls are playing ice hockey. Now, one West Michigan woman has the honor of being the first female to referee a state high school championship game. She's hoping to inspire other girls along the way.
Sara Strong balances a number of roles. Among the most important of being a wife and mother, is her new role, and a significant one at that: The first female to referee the Division 3 boys hockey state finals, March 14.
It's a goal not man referees, especially women, achieve.
"There are four to 500 officials throughout the state that do high school hockey and work toward the goal of high school playoffs," Strong explained.
What’s more, Strong is the only female hockey ref in West Michigan, and just one of a handful throughout Michigan.
"The sport of women’s hockey is growing and it's kind of exciting that I could be a role model for little girls in general.”
Hockey’s been part of Strong’s life since she was a toddler. She met her husband, Pete, on the ice during a game they both reffed. They even named their daughter, Easton, after the brand of hockey equipment. And yes, the two-year old already has her own pair of skates!
"She hasn’t skated yet but walks around on the skates," Strong said. "I hope she plays but if she doesn’t that’s ok. It would be really cool to ref a game with her one day.”
Growing up in a male-dominated sport comes with constant challenges.
"It's harder for us to earn respect but once [high school players] see us skate, we get respected just the same.”
But Strong is well on her way to clearing the ice for more girls and women just like her.
The Division 3 boys hockey high school state finals is 2pm Saturday, March 14 at the Compuware Ice Arena in Plymouth. The teams have yet to be decided.
Later in March, Strong will be refereeing the USA Girls Hockey Nationals in Lansing.