At its recent winter congress meeting, Hockey Canada approved a regulation change to revise the names associated with its age divisions. As per the decision, age-group identifiers like midget, bantam, peewee, atom and novice will be replaced next season with year-based terminology, such as U17, U15, U13, U11, et cetera.
The move makes a lot of sense, and is one I support. It will align hockey with other sports already using year-based designations, such as soccer, volleyball and rugby, and it provides more clarity as to the age of the athletes involved. The International Ice Hockey Federation and USA Hockey already have made the shift toward year-based designators, and it’s good to see Hockey Canada follow suit.
The main reason behind the change, of course, is the term midget – a derogatory slur for people with dwarfism. In its press release, Hockey Canada expressed the desire to be a more “inclusive” brand.
While some online commenters have decried the change as Hockey Canada yielding to what they see as an ever-increasing standard of political correctness, I think it’s important we stop using potentially inflammatory language. The word does not offend me personally, but it’s easy to see how it can be a slap in the face for people with dwarfism.
According to Allan Redford, the director of the Dwarf Athletic Association of Canada, the word’s origin dates back to the 1800s and early 1900s, when little people were showcased publicly in circus freak shows. I’m not typically one for historical negationism, but I feel gawking at people with physical differences for amusement is a pretty big blight on our history, and not a legacy we should continue in any way.
Sensitivity aside, terms like midget, bantam and peewee don’t make sense in a hockey context, anyway. I didn’t know what a bantam was, so I looked it up, and it turns out it is a small chicken. Why should 13- and 14-year-old players be referred to as chickens?
The word peewee, according to Google, refers to someone of short stature. Peewee is a more accurate descriptor than bantam, but it still isn’t universally applicable to hockey players who are 11 or 12 years old. I’ve seen 12-year-olds who are taller than some adults.
Some people who are used to hockey’s traditional age groups will likely be resistant to the new terms, and I won’t be surprised if I still hear people use midget, bantam and peewee in conversation, whether it’s out of habit or as an act of defiance. But as the years go by, I’m sure the majority of people will come around to the new, more appropriate nomenclature.