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Vol. 19, No. 3 Sept. 9, 1999

Bobcats' founder recalls start of women's hockey

When the plays click, the stick handling works and the skating is good there's nothing like ice hockey. It's fast, it's challenging and it's the ultimate team sport," said alumna Sylvia Wasylyk, UD '79.

Wasylyk is one of the founders of the Bobcats, a women's ice hockey team that has been playing out of UD for 25 years. Wasylyk also helped start the Mid-Atlantic Women's Ice Hockey League, also celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Wasylyk originally was a varsity field hockey player at UD and for fun took ice hockey during Winter Session. "There was no ice hockey for women at the time. I was the only woman in the class, but I was invited to become goalie for the UD junior varsity men's team for two years, and then for the varsity," she recalled.

During this time, she persuaded the New Castle County Recreation Center to offer ice hockey lessons to women, and the Bobcats got their start as a recreational team. "We are probably associated with the University's ice rinks longer than any other community organization," Wasylyk said.

Wasylyk became so involved in the sport that she moved to the Boston area where women's ice hockey was a recognized sport and joined the Massport Jets, an all-star exhibition team sponsored by the Massachusetts Port Authority.

"That year the Olympics was being held at Lake Placid. As host country, the United States could add a new sport for competition. We tried to make it women's ice hockey but lost out to a cross-country skiing competition," she recalled.

After that disappointment, Wasylyk turned to a new career and joined the Navy, becoming an aircraft maintenance officer in Texas and later in Korea. Through the Navy, she finished her UD degree in physical education in 1979.

Currently, she works in human resources as a training center administrator for LaFarge Gypsum in Wilmington. "My goal was to teach, and I am teaching now but in a different setting," she said.

During her 11 years in the Navy, she donned her skates as often as possible. After missing four years of competition, Wasylyk was stationed in Willow Grove, Pa., rejoined the Bobcats and has been playing with the team on a regular basis ever since.

"I want to play through the 25th season, and then I'll retire my skates to my trophy case. I still want to keep up with the game in other ways-coaching or as a manager or certified official," Wasylyk said.

"Ice hockey can be a rough game, but it's a thinking person's sport, involving strategy. It requires balance and footwork, and as the saying goes 'falling with style,' " Wasylyk said.

Although body checks are not allowed in women's ice hockey or youth ice hockey, Wasylyk recalled when she was in the national finals, her shoulder was dislocated and she was sent to the hospital.

Women's ice hockey has come into its own since Wasylyk first took to the ice and is an internationally recognized sport and part of USA Hockey. National championships were held in the 1980s; world championships began in 1990 and the U.S. women's ice hockey team took the gold in the 1998 Olympics. There are women's ice hockey scholarships at some colleges, but so far, there is no professional league for women, Wasylyk said.

UD-Bobcats connection

Other women with UD ties are associated with the Bobcats. Mary Kay Nickel, AS '85, joined the Bobcats as a defensive player two years after the team was formed and is now captain of the B team and president of the league. Her father and brother were hockey players, and she is an ardent Flyers fan.

Junior Courtney Berholz, who is majoring in biotechnology, also is a player on the team. She has played center on the B team and hopes to move up to the A team this fall. "Being a soccer player helped my footwork when I began playing ice hockey. I had not done much skating until I tried out for the Bobcats, but I've learned since then. My boyfriend is an ice hockey player and that inspired me to try the sport. I took a great liking to it; it's lots of fun and I encourage other students to try out for the team," she said.

Susan Mazess is a senior majoring in athletic training. Her sister plays for another women's ice hockey team and inspired her to try out for the Bobcats. A left wing on the B team, Mazess said she loves the sport.

The Bobcats welcome anyone interested in becoming a member at any level, and coaches and assistants also are needed. The team will begin regular practices at 3:15 p.m., Sundays, beginning Sept. 12, in the Fred Rust Ice Arena, and any interested persons are invited to attend. For further information about the team, call Wasylyk at 737-0939 or Nickel at 994-1532.

-Sue Moncure
Photo by John Chabalko

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Sylvia Wasylyk Online Article 1999- playing for Delaware Bobcats.