SHELBURNE A dedicated group of local, female sports enthusiasts who grew up without the same opportunities in athletics women have today, have not let that slow them down. In fact, Kay Van Woert, of Shelburne, helped to organize a Vermont womens hockey team with many members from the area that will soon be heading to Florida for the National Hockey Championships open to teams of women over 50 years of age for the first time. Not only that, but Van Woert was instrumental in making the tournament a possibility. Kay, who started playing hockey at the age of 48 when her daughter was attending Champlain Valley Union High School and also took up the sport, said tournament opportunities for older men have existed for some time, as well as age-level playing opportunities at the recreational level. Those same opportunities for age-group play just dont exist at the recreational level for women yet, she said. So when she heard about the national hockey tournament for men, Kay said she called the tournament director to ask why it was not open to women teams. The director, she said, has been an amazing help in opening up the tournament to women this year for the first time. This year, the over 50 hockey championships will see five teams of women compete, including one from Vermont, one from Massachusetts, two from Minnesota, and one at-large team which will even have some women from Vermont playing with an overflow of interest in the area. Of the 15 women on the team, a significant number of them are from Shelburne, Charlotte, and Hinesburg. Others live in Huntington, Waterbury, Stowe, Essex, and Barre. Coaching this years team is Anne Blair who also coaches at St. Michaels college and plays on pick up leagues. Van Woert said Blair has been introducing a level of knowledge to the team that they did not have before. Many members of the team regularly play with a group of women, of a very wide age range, and although Kay said they enjoy playing with younger women, there is a difference in the level of skill, mostly because hockey is still such a young sport for women. Also, with this year being the 35th anniversary of Title IX, which helped to level the playing field with equal opportunities for women, many women in their 20s and 30s grew up playing sports, and even if they werent playing hockey, they were gaining sports skills that carry through to the hockey arena. Because of this, she said, there is a real need for age-group divisions at every level, including the local, recreational level-- at least for women 40 and up. For women in the older age category, Kay said they grew up when playing sports was inappropriate for girls, and because of that, she is a self-described sports nut. Womens USA Hockey is still coordinated by the youth council, whereas in USA Hockey for men, there is a sperate division for mens hockey and the youth council. Ideally, this is what would happen in the womens sport as well. When helping to coordinate this years tournament for women 50 and over, Kay said she spent a lot of time with the powers that be in hockey, and said The youth council is not letting the sport grow up. As an example, she noted that the youth council will not allow the womens division to call this years tournament a national championships even though it is happening at the national level. Im very confused why it is USA Hockey is not supporting grassroots and rec play for women at the same level as they are for men. Nonetheless, Kay said the group is having a whole lot of fun. Its the first time and older group was pulled together for a specific event--were just enjoying the ride. The team will travel to Tampa Florida and play in the tournament April 13-15. Kay said they are hoping to use the tournament to gain attention and help foster more age-group opportunities at each level of th sport. Frankly now that the word is out on this, Im sure its going to grow, she said.