Linda Geffner is a rare combination: all girl, yet all hockey player. Not field hockey, mind you, a sport that convention says is more suitable for females. But ice hockey, replete with flashing skate blades, thudding body checks--and mucho machismo.
Geffner, a 16-year-old student at Crossroads School in Santa Monica, has been playing ice hockey for boys teams since she was 11. Though she is a native of a sunny clime--and therefore comes by her love of the sport in a somewhat unnatural fashion--she is apparently a natural on the ice.
The Beverlywood resident got her first taste of hockey from her parents, Susan and David.
Although her parents were born and raised in Los Angeles, they are die-hard hockey fans who used to religiously attend games of the Los Angeles Blades, a minor league team that preceded the arrival of the Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey League. When the Kings came to town the Geffners transferred their allegiance to them.
Linda saw her first Kings game when she was a half-pint and discovered later that she not only loved the game but also wanted to play it. The trouble was that the sport in Los Angeles is played by teams composed mostly of boys.
That didn't trouble her, however.
"When I discovered that I really wanted to play, I didn't realize that they were boys and I was a girl," she said. "I was just at an age (11) when it didn't matter. I didn't figure it was a boys sport, so I went ahead and started playing. Now I'm a little older, and it's a little different.
"But then my hair was real short and half the people didn't know I was a girl. My parents figured I would outgrow it. They used to whisper, with their hands over their mouths, 'Give her a season and she'll get over it.'
"I figured that was it--I'll show them."
Show them she did, sometimes to their dismay.
"My mom comes to games and is a little bit tentative. But after a while she enjoys it. My dad comes to every game."
Susan Geffner confesses that watching Linda's games is not always enjoyable. "It's very difficult at this stage to watch her. There are certain kids on certain teams who are out to get her, and I get very emotional."
Linda skates for the Marina City Sharks, whose home ice is the Culver Ice Rink. This is her second year with the Bantams group, for players 14 through 16 years old.
She said that she has seen other girls play for boys teams but that some tend to give up hockey as they get older. Girls who continue are asked to play an extra year with their age group, primarily because boys are getting bigger--and rougher. The Pee Wee group, she said, is for those 12 and 13, but she played in that age group for three years.
The theory behind the additional year requirement, she said, is that girls "won't demolish as easily. But it doesn't matter to me if you're going to get hit or give a hit, which I do."
That she does.
Brian Chapman, 14, a goalkeeper and teammate of Linda, said that a boy from an opposing team "might check her, but Linda takes it and checks right back."
Carl Chapman, Brian's father, coaches the Marina City Bantams and said that Linda is "a good team player."
"I don't think she's at a disadvantage just because she's a girl," said the elder Chapman, who said he used to play high school hockey in Minnesota.
"It's a rough sport, and a lot of kids are physical," he said. "She has bigger kids to overcome, and I think that's a real credit to her."
He said that, since she is older than the boys she plays against, they sometimes "give her a good shot to shake her up so that she will theoretically be ineffective. But she comes back real strong and has made a lot of progress."
Coach Chapman estimated that there are about 20 to 30 females in the Southern California Hockey Assn.'s age groups, from as young as 5 to as old as 55.
Some might say that these girls and women are risking serious injury by mixing it up with boys and men on the ice. But Chapman thinks that amateur hockey is a relatively safe sport for all players.
The players, he said, "wear a lot of protective gear, and they rarely take a direct hit as in football."
He believes that Linda is safer than some of the other players. "(She) has been playing an awful long time, so she has the ability to protect herself. As we would say to an enemy on the ice, 'Keep your head up (meaning that the opponent better watch out for himself).'
"She is a good player because she has skating ability, strength and because of her teamwork."
She has had a couple of minor injuries but seems to have dismissed them with a shake of her ponytail, the hairdo she wears when she plays these days. She wears her hair that way so the boys can see that she's a girl.
About a year ago, she said, she had a muscle tear in her right shoulder when a player slammed her into the boards.
"I had to wear a sling and was supposed to wear it for three weeks. But I got so tired of it that I just took it off after about a week. Sometimes I wake up and I can feel it (pain in her shoulder)."