12-year-old girl banned from playing in Sask. town over dressing room dispute on co-ed team
Hockey association volunteers feared 'compromising situation' among fully-dressed boys and girls
Berkeley Trayhorne learned how to skate and hold a hockey stick before she even learned the alphabet.
The gangly 12-year-old girl loves tussling in the corners, fighting for the puck.
But she may never be able to play for a hockey team in her hometown again, after the local minor hockey association "permanently released" her in May — part of the fallout from an eight-month battle over dressing-room access for Berkeley, who played on a co-ed team of mostly boys.
The dispute pitted her parents against volunteer board members and included legal action, a human rights complaint, board resignations and allegations of misogyny, vulgar language and inappropriate behaviour. One board member said it also caused "a rift" in the town of Dalmeny, Sask., which is about 25 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon and has fewer than 2,000 people.
The Dalmeny Minor Hockey Association told CBC News it released Berkeley due to "multiple violations of our Code of Conduct," by Berkeley's parents Rod and Laurelea Trayhorne.
WATCH | 12-year-old girl banned from playing in Sask. town of locker room dispute:
As for the young player at the centre of it all?
"It just makes me sad," said Berkeley, who's been on the ice for half her life. She admits she's not an elite athlete. She just wants to play hockey with her friends.
"Sometimes it makes me angry."
Dressing room divide
Berkeley's first five years of minor hockey were typical.
She played on co-ed teams with Dalmeny Minor Hockey Association (DMHA) along with a mix of girls and boys who all geared up in the same room at the same time.
When her town didn't have enough players in her age group in 2017, she tried a female-only team in Saskatoon, a half hour drive away, but found she preferred playing in Dalmeny with her friends — mostly boys.
At the start of Pee-Wee (U13), Hockey Canada's co-ed dressing room policy kicked in.
With a goal of balancing team unity and camaraderie with modesty and privacy, according to the national governing body for hockey, the policy dictates boys and girls 11 years and older must dress separately, but that "both genders shall congregate in one dressing room ... not more than 15 minutes prior to the scheduled ice time" fully-dressed except for helmets and skates. It also states male and female players must have "equal access to pre and post team sessions."
But some rinks didn't have extra change rooms for Berkeley. So, like many pre-teen and teen girls on co-ed hockey teams in Canada, Berkeley would often change in a rink closet, bathroom or furnace room before joining her male teammates.
"We've had situations where grown men have just walked in on her [while she's getting dressed] because she's not in a dressing room — it's a utility closet," said Rod.
Berkeley hated it. She played in Langham, Sask., for a year and preferred to arrive at the rink already wearing under-gear shirts and leggings, then don her equipment in the public hallway outside the team dressing room. There, she could listen to her teammates joke and laugh and wait for her turn to enter the room before games, she said.
"I didn't really want to play anymore because, like, that's mainly the whole part that I really wanted to be there was to have fun, and me sitting by myself isn't that fun," she said.
Berkeley's dad said the rule was "tolerable" because other parents and coaches were supportive. On more than one occasion, Rod said, a mother would haul her son out of the room if he wasn't dressing fast enough to allow Berkeley to enter the dressing room 15 minutes before ice time.
'She was humiliated'
Then the pandemic hit.
Ironically, Berkeley's parents felt it would be an "easier" year, because under COVID-19 protocols, all players could only arrive at the arena 15 minutes before ice-time and had to come fully-dressed in their equipment, except for helmets, gloves and skates.
"We felt that finally she would be fully welcomed as part of the team and just walk right in as an equal," said Laurelea.
Berkeley and another girl were assigned a separate dressing room to put on their skates, but Berkeley was upset that she had to be segregated from the boys when they were all fully dressed already.
In an email to the Trayhornes last October, head coach Jason Brabant stated he had no issue with Berkeley and another girl being in the room with boys because all the players were arriving dressed. The team manager and assistant coach echoed that sentiment, stating it was clearly within the rules.
Yet, four days later, according to Berkeley, a group of board members physically blocked her as she tried to enter the team dressing room, saying she wasn't allowed in."I felt like I did something wrong," Berkeley said.
"She was humiliated," said Laurelea. "They made her feel that she was not welcome…. What message does that send to a young girl? What message does that send to the boys who are watching?"
For the couple — already frustrated that their daughter felt left out — it was the final straw.
"She's just a little girl," said Rod. "I was angry. I was upset. I cried."
He said he called a board member who didn't want "to get involved."
When the Trayhornes didn't get immediate resolution to the issue, they decided they were "too emotional" to handle it themselves, said Rod. They called a lawyer and in November, they filed a complaint with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission accusing the association of sexual discrimination.
'Potentially compromising situation'
The hockey association has cited various reasons at different times for why it denied Berkeley unrestricted access to two change rooms where her fully dressed male teammates sat spaced apart.
The DMHA stated that COVID-19 protocols meant that team meetings were happening on the ice, not in the dressing room, that it had to limit the number of players in the rooms and that male players could still undress after ice time. The Trayhornes dispute some of that, pointing out the team manager said there was space for Berkeley and that no players were allowed to undress in the dressing rooms, according to pandemic-era rink rules.
For this story, CBC News contacted board members who all settled on one main reason to deny Berkeley access: it was too risky to have unchaperoned boys in a dressing room with a girl, even a fully-dressed one. They cited the need to "protect both genders from a potentially compromising situation," and clarified that meant bullying, sexual harassment, or even assault.
"It's an effort to protect males or females from anything that could be said or mistaken in the dressing room...[assault] might be an extreme case but it could be a possibility, right?" said Kyle Rathgeber, president of the DMHA, adding that he felt a coach or parent would have to be in the room at all times and he couldn't guarantee that would be the case. "So again you're just trying to protect everyone from things that could happen."
Rod and Laurelea Trayhorne say it's not their daughter's fault that parents don't trust their boys.
On Aug. 13, after CBC News first published this story, the DMHA issued a statement that said Berkeley was allowed into the dressing room before four games at the discretion of the coach. The Trayhornes dispute that.
Read the DMHA's Aug. 13 response to the CBC News story:
Volunteers quit over dispute
DMHA says all decisions were made on the advice of the Saskatchewan Hockey Association (SHA).
SHA general manager Kelly McClintock said the board told him boys were uncomfortable using the bathroom — even though there are stall doors — and that he encouraged the board to enforce the co-ed dressing policy the way they saw fit.
"Most facilities weren't allowing you into the rink until 15 minutes before so there's no way you could have adhered to that [Hockey Canada dressing room] policy in a COVID year... even fully-dressed," he said.
But Berkeley's parents said the reasons didn't make sense and that the association was discriminating against their daughter.
Read initial statements from Dalmeny Minor Hockey Association in response to questions from CBC News:
The allegations of sexual discrimination stunned volunteer board members and fractured relationships, said Christine Smith, who served as secretary for the board but chose not to renew her term because of how toxic and "exhausting" this dispute had become.
"It took a toll on everyone," she said.
As a parent volunteer, she said she lost sleep after receiving letters from a lawyer.
"We would never isolate anyone based on sex," Smith said. "We did everything by the book."
The president of the DMHA resigned half way through the season, leaving Rathgeber to step into the role.
The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission rejected the Trayhornes's first application in February, stating there was insufficient information to establish Berkeley had been "adversely treated based on sex."
The Trayhornes reapplied in June after Berkeley was released.
Early in the season, the Trayhornes refused to agree to a mandatory code of conduct issued by the minor hockey association that prohibited parents from "speaking negatively" about the executive. They signed the document, but crossed out that one section.
In a November email, the hockey association threatened to permanently release Berkeley and her two brothers unless their parents signed an unaltered code of conduct.
In May, the DMHA said it decided to permanently release only Berkeley and accused the couple of using "vulgar and threatening language that you expressed while spectating and other concerned parents relayed to us throughout this past season."
The Trayhornes admit they lost their tempers on two occasions. Laurelea said she swore in frustration while speaking to a group of parents in the rink lobby. But, the couple insists they never threatened anyone.
SHA general manager Kelly McClintock supports the DMHA's recent decision to permanently release Berkeley, noting she is one of about 40 players in the province to be rejected by their hometown hockey associations over disputes.
"It's very challenging for volunteers and I feel sorry for them," he said. "They put up with an incredible amount of abuse.… It's turned off a lot of people from even being involved in the game."
The DMHA only released Berkeley, not her two brothers, despite citing the "strained" relationship with the Trayhornes.
'Quit is not in our blood'
Berkeley's parents say it's tempting to pull their daughter out of hockey altogether, but they know she still wants to play.
They insist their daughter is owed an apology and more inclusion.
"Quit is not in our blood," said Rod.
Berkeley said she's caught in the middle and that her parents have told her they need to keep fighting "for other girls."
Still, she's confused about why all the adults weren't able to work it out.
"They're just kind of being stupid," she said.
Her parents have registered her to play co-ed hockey in the fall with a neighbouring small town.