(AP) -- When Snider Hockey was just getting started in the mid-2000s, someone asked Jim Britt a question that made his jaw drop.
"An administrator asked me, `What are the girls going to do while the boys are playing hockey?"' Britt recalled.
The Philadelphia-based organization named after late Flyers owner Ed Snider now has more than 3,000 kids in its program and almost a third are girls. Snider Hockey officials want to get to a point that boys' and girls' participation is split 50-50 and are teaming with the Howe Foundation to take another stride toward that goal.
Snider Hockey and the charity started by Gordie Howe's wife, Colleen, announced a multiyear partnership Tuesday that could advance the already stellar girls hockey program in the Philadelphia area. The Howe Foundation will give $5,000 each annually to assist Snider's boys and girls hockey.
"Colleen and the Howe Foundation, that's the foundation of that," said Nolan Howe, grandson of "Mr. Hockey" and son of Hockey Hall of Famer Mark Howe. "We wouldn't have done it, the Howe Foundation I'm speaking from now, had there not been the involvement of the girls program because it is the foundation of what we want to accomplish. Her vision and her mission was to help those in need and allow them to be able to enjoy it and to participate."
Snider Hockey is already off to a good start there, and it seems a matter of time until it produces a national team player. From his spot as director of hockey operations for the junior Maine Nordiques, Nolan Howe knows plenty about brothers Justin and Chris Zapata, who came out of Snider Hockey, and has heard all about 10-year-old sister Bella, who might be the best of the three.
"I was asking around about him and everybody just kept saying, `Yeah, but wait till you see his younger brother, and the best one of the whole bunch is the little girl,"' Howe said.
Bella Zapata dazzles on the ice now, almost a decade before she could play Division I college hockey. But Snider Hockey has strong girls programs beyond just one player.
Howe said 15% of girls registered in the Atlantic district come from Snider Hockey. Executive vice president Jan Koziara said all the girls travel teams have female coaches because the organization believes in the importance of role models.
"We've always made welcoming girls and providing a supportive atmosphere for them a priority since our inception," Koziara said. "This partnership I think is really important because it helps us to provide more opportunities for girls to play the game at a higher level."
Colleen Howe, known as "Mrs. Hockey," founded the Detroit Junior Red Wings, managed her husband's and sons Mark and Marty's business interests and was a powerhouse in the sport off the ice like Gordie was on it.
"What a great role model in Colleen Howe: somebody who was a trailblazer, a great leader and somebody who gave back to girls so that they can have opportunities through this great sport," Koziara said. "It gives us an opportunity to celebrate her legacy along with Gordie's and really show that hockey is great for everybody -- for boys and for girls."