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Harpeth Hall breaks the ice with the first girls high school hockey team in Tennessee

Olympic gold medalist A.J. Mleczko gives a ‘big shoutout’ to Harpeth Hall athletes for their efforts

Never before has there been an all-girls scholastic ice hockey team in the state of Tennessee.

This year, as the country celebrates the 50th anniversary of Title IX, that will change.

Harpeth Hall athletes established the Polar Bears ice hockey club in December 2021 and plan to compete as an official high school program in the Nashville Predators JV High School League for the 2022-2023 season.

When the season starts, the Polar Bears will become the first all-girls hockey team in Tennessee organized and supported solely by its school.

“Our mission is to create a girls hockey program at Harpeth Hall that encourages a diverse group of girls to find a love of the game in a safe, fun, educational, and service-based environment,” said Harpeth Hall sophomore Davern Cigarran, one of the founders of the school’s 25-member girls club squad.

“We believe that we can bring joy to our peers, and hopefully to our community, by expanding the opportunities for participation in ice hockey. Most importantly, we want to have fun. We hope that this team will stay at Harpeth Hall long after we graduate and that the future Harpeth Hall Polar Bears will find the same love of the game that we have.”

In the Southern United States, few kids — boys or girls — grow up with a stick in their hand. Once hooked on hockey, most girls get their competitive start on coed teams. Several Harpeth Hall girls currently play on boys teams in the GNASH and JV High School leagues. Still, even as a sport in its infancy in Tennessee, girls hockey is setting new precedents.

The Nashville Predators, the city’s NHL team, runs the Preds Girls Hockey Development Program for girls to learn the game. In 2019, the Nashville Jr. Predators announced the addition of girls hockey teams. The league has two established girl club travel teams at the 19U and 14U level. There are also several all-girls private club teams, however — similar to Tennessee Soccer Club or the Nashville-area Alliance Volleyball Club — the private club teams pull from various schools.

None of the existing girls teams at any level have a scholastic identification with a single school.

“That is incredible, and you guys should be very, very proud of your efforts,” two-time, Olympic medal-winning U.S. women’s hockey player A.J. Mleczko said in a video message to the Harpeth Hall team. “And it’s amazing for the sport of girls and women’s hockey, too, just to see it grow globally but to see it grow right here in the United States and places like Tennessee is just incredible. The future is bright for our sport.”

That barrier-breaking mentality is part of Harpeth Hall’s legacy.

In 1972, Title IX changed the competitive landscape for women and girls across the United States. The landmark legislation has shaped the journeys and barrier-breaking accomplishments of Harpeth Hall students, alumnae, and faculty members ever since.

Last year, Katie Hill, a 2000 graduate of Harpeth Hall, joined the National Football League as its senior vice president of communications — one of very few women to ever hold that role.

Also in 2021, the Tennessee Secondary School Athletics Association promoted Harpeth Hall alumna Emily Crowell ’05 to an assistant executive director. She is the first woman in the organization to reach that level in the association’s 96-year history.

This February, three-time Olympic gold-medal-winning swimmer and Harpeth Hall graduate Tracy Caulkins was named as only the second-ever female president of Swimming Australia.

Now, 50 years after Title IX passed into law, Harpeth Hall students follow in the path of the barrier-breaking women before them as they launch a new opportunity for girls in athletics.

“The Harpeth Hall Polar Bears are a real first,” said Dr. Jenny Halpern Moore, who is the mother of one of the Polar Bears players and has helped coach during their first club season this year. “An all-girls school team removes some of the barriers that would otherwise prevent girls from participating. Harpeth Hall is truly helping to grow the game and break the ceiling.”