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Pride Month Feature: Women's National Team athlete Ella Matteucci

By: Melissa Verge

Trouble was easy to find in the small town Ella Matteucci grew up in, but sports helped keep her out of it. 

A baseball and a diamond in Fruitvale, BC filled with Matteucci’s teammates and friends were key in moving her away from a small town party scene she’d been a part of from a very young age. Stepping into the batter's box, eyes locked on the pitcher, the talented young ball player was far from the drinking and the partying. She couldn’t be focused on that when her sole focus was the next pitch coming her way.

“I think sports lifted me out of that,” she said. “Baseball in the summer kept me busy, kept me around like minded people, and it kind of kept me away from being a bit of a hooligan.”

Years later when Matteucci was going to school in the U.S. pursuing hockey, sports once again helped her - this time in feeling comfortable expressing a part of her identity to the world.

Growing up in a village of just under 2,000 people, they didn’t see girls holding hands with each other in the hallways of their high school, she said. The visible LGBTQ+ community was slim to non-existent. You dated boys, got married at 20, had kids at 23, and that was that. It wasn’t until she went to Clarkson University in New York to pursue hockey that she was around like minded people who were open about sharing their experiences and identities. 

That helped her feel comfortable enough to share hers with the world as a bi-sexual 20-year-old athlete. It was a freeing moment for the young woman who had until that moment kept that part of herself hidden.

“It's definitely a weight [being lifted off your shoulders] because you figure yourself out,” the now 29-year-old said. “I think in life in general we're all trying to figure out who the heck we are, and I think when I finally figured this out, that was a big piece of ‘hey, this is who I am. You can love whoever you want, because why not.’”

Now she’s a veteran player on the Women’s National Team, and from her experience at Clarkson she knows firsthand how important it is to hear other people share their stories of life and love. She’s been with the program for more than a decade, competing in three World Cups and the 2015 Pan Am games. Hockey has also been a big part of her life, as a player with Team Sonnett of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association. Her hometown of Fruitvale has even named a baseball field after her where she grew up playing, a true tribute to her success and contributions to the game.

She’s always available for conversations with her teammates, specifically the younger players. If they feel comfortable enough to talk to her about it, she’s there for them, not just as a player to look up to on the diamond, but a role model who is there for them off it. 

“I think I’m kind of the girl on the team that's like ‘hey, my door is always open kind of thing,’” she said. “I know we see it everyday especially because I’m one of the older players on Team Canada and in the hockey world still too, you see these younger kids figuring it out too and it’s like, that's awesome.”

This season she’s taking a short break from her position with the Women’s National Team as she begins her new career with the Burnaby Fire Department. You can’t get injured in your first year, she said, and she’s trying to eliminate that risk. She’s far from hanging up her glove for good though. Once the intensive first year of responding to medical calls, fires, and alarms is over, and training in between, she’ll be back on the diamond where she first found solstice in Fruitvale. It’s a call that she can’t ignore, even after 12 years of responding to it.

“I know that might sound very cliche, but the fact that you get to come to the park, it’s beautiful outside usually and just sit around, talk ball, work on things you want to work on with all your best friends, you can't beat that.”

Open communication and embracing differences are important pieces in supporting athletes across all sports moving forward, she said. Coaches also taking the time to listen to their players and take part in the discussion is key. That way they can better get a handle on how their players are feeling.

Matteucci doesn’t have big plans to celebrate Pride Month this year as she’s in a new city, but her brother and his boyfriend will be coming to visit next week. 

“Maybe that's how I celebrate, by spending time with them and being thankful we’re in Canada where it's safe to be who we are,” she said. 

Celebrating everyone’s unique identities and differences – “in my opinion it should be celebrated at all times,” she said.