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Obviously, Edmonton is a ringette-friendly place.

Scores of players have descended upon the city this week for the world ringette championship, all brandishing their poles (not hockey sticks), all dreaming of whizzing the rubber ring (not a puck) past a netminder.

Of the 30 players who form Team Canada, nine are from Edmonton. In 1990, there was no Team Canada, but a squad from Alberta won the first world ringette championship in Gloucester, Ont.

"The idea of playing in a world championship, at the highest level that we have, in your hometown, is dream-come-true kind of stuff," said Canadian defenceman Laura Warner, who has played ringette in Edmonton for 18 years.

The gold-medal game -- which will likely include Canada -- is sold out at the 3,900-seat AgriCom. There are no all-event tickets left, although single-event tickets are available.

Is the game, invented 39 years ago by a Canadian, experiencing a boom?

Well, no. Women's hockey, with its status as an Olympic sport, seems to be taking all the glory. While registration for women's hockey has leaped by 400 per cent over the past 10 years to 54,563, the number of women playing ringette has remained relatively stagnant, at 24,631.

Ringette registration peaked at about 28,000 during the mid-1980s, according to Bill Hubbs, executive director of Ringette Canada.

The biggest leap in the number of female hockey players took place just before women's hockey was included on the Olympic roster year. Registrations jumped by almost 40 per cent to 11,341 from the previous year. Another 30-per-cent increase to 37,748 occurred in the season following the 1998 Olympics, when women's hockey made its debut.

Shelley Coolidge, manager of female hockey development for the Canadian Hockey Association, said that while there is no way of telling whether women's hockey is stealing players from the ringette pool, it appears that the majority of young females who sign up for hockey are playing a sport for the first time.

According to On the Edge: Women Making Hockey History,ringette began to fade in popularity after bodychecking was removed from women's hockey in 1986.

This change attracted many ringette players who really wanted to play hockey but "decided not to because their parents feared they would be injured," according to the book.

In fact, the authors, Elizabeth Etue and Megan K. Williams, wrote that ringette became a training ground for women's hockey. Albertan Judy Diduck, a ringette player from the age of 10, quit to play hockey at 19 and became a member of the national team. She hadn't realized women's hockey existed in an organized way.

However, many members of the national ringette team playing this week are dyed-in-the-wool ringette lovers, having been exposed to the game at a young age. Others had their sights set on hockey, but shifted to ringette.

Marion Clark of Montague, PEI, began playing ringette at 13 when she could no longer play on boys' hockey teams. Erin Gray of Fall River, N.S., and Courtney Griffin of New Maryland, N.B., both played on women's varsity hockey teams, but sparkled in the ringette realm. Griffin was a speed skater who switched to ringette and now works as a power-skating instructor for both ringette and hockey.

Jacinda Rolph of Stony Plain, Alta., started playing ringette at five years of age because her father wanted to find her a game of her own after she expressed a desire to play hockey with her brother.

Michelle Henry of Saskatoon, now an orthodontic dental assistant, joined a ringette team because she found figure skating "too boring."

Warner said she joined a varsity women's hockey team for a year, but when the coach asked her to choose between hockey and ringette, she said "there was no question." Ringette won.

"Ringette was a perfect fit for me," she said. "This sport was particularly designed as a teamwork sport. . . . I really love skating, and I really love the speed of it. All the rules cater to passing and team play."

Hubbs isn't disturbed by the rising interest in women's hockey. "I think it helps promote women's sport in general," he said. "That's one sport that's being taken seriously and that's great, and hopefully there will be other ones, too."

He acknowledges that women's hockey may be swiping some potential ringette players from his fold, but "young people today have so many choices."

He hopes the world championship this week in Edmonton will enhance the status of ringette, because for the first time, the gold-medal game will be televised live on the CBC on Saturday at 1:45 p.m. EDT.

Still, only four teams will compete -- Canada, Finland, the United States and Sweden. France, one of the five countries that founded an international ringette federation, couldn't afford to send a team. Russia sent a squad to two world championships in the early 1990s, but has been a no-show for the past three.

Hubbs said Japan has expressed interest in the sport, and intended to send a women's hockey team to Canada to explore ringette last year, but cancelled the trip after the attacks of Sept. 11 in the United States. And this past summer, at a hockey tournament in Prague, Hubbs was surprised to see clubs from the Czech Republic and Switzerland playing in a ringette division. They were "teams we knew nothing about," he said. Some Canadian enthusiasts are also trying to introduce ringette in South Korea. Finland is the defending world champion. Its teams have corporate sponsors who provide enough backing that 15 Canadian players -- including Warner -- were able to play for a season or two in Finland.

Ringette Canada gets no federal financing because it is not an Olympic sport. Warner said it is not a hope, but a goal, that ringette eventually will be included in the Games. It may be a long way off. The International Olympic Committee requires that a sport be played seriously in 12 countries, and ringette comes up short.

Canada, however, remains the bedrock of the sport. In Ottawa alone, there are more than 40 teams, Hubbs said. Some of the players are as old as 70.

Co-ed teams have also popped up in the Ottawa area, he said. And although ringette was invented to give women a game of their own, a total of 422 boys have signed up across the country. There are recreational men's teams in Quebec.

"Ringette really promotes skating. . . . Once [men]see the game and get on the ice, they realize that it's not as easy as they think it is."