As Marnie McClain looked around the new Herstory Museum at AdventHealth Center Ice (AHCI) in Wesley Chapel, she was grinning broadly.
An eighth-grader from Fort Myers, McClain was at the facility competing with her Florida Alliance U-14 team in the Southeast Regional Girls Hockey Championships on March 9, but the Grand Opening of the interactive Herstory Museum on the same day was an added bonus.
“I saw it on Digit Murphy’s Instagram, that it was going to be here, and I was so happy to come and see something like this,” McClain said. “It is really cool.”
Margaret “Digit” Murphy is a women’s hockey pioneer and legend, as well as a champion for Title IX, the federal law prohibiting anyone, on the basis of sex, from being excluded from participating or denied the benefits of sports, or being discriminated against under any education program or activity that receives Federal financial assistance.
The interactive Herstory Museum is Murphy’s brainchild, inspired by a visit to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH, that left her disappointed over the lack of exhibits honoring women’s accomplishments in the NFL.
She and Wesley Chapel engineer Jeff Novotny created it for girls just like McClain, to bring to them the stories they would otherwise never get to hear. The walls are covered with portraits of the gold-medal winning 2018 U.S. Women’s Olympic ice hockey team that trained at Center Ice, as well as large vinyl displays for each featured female hockey pioneer. Visitors can access a QR Code, which takes you to a webpage featuring a biography and video, or you can send a text to a certain number to receive that pioneer’s website link.
All of the information is available online at GetHerStory.org.
The museum is located on the second floor of AHCI, next to the skating facility’s Top Shelf Restaurant & Sports Bar. While only occupying about 100 square feet or so, plenty of women’s hockey history is crammed into the space, which also overlooks two of the ice rinks at the facility.
Parents and players lined up against the glass to watch the action in the ice, strolling over to the exhibits on the wall during breaks in the games.
“It’s pretty inspiring to see what women have accomplished in hockey,” said Tristina Doyle, a teammate of McClain’s on the Florida Alliance U-14 team. “Usually, it’s only the men you can read about, but really not much about women.”
The first display features Murphy, a former Ivy League Player of the Year at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. She also produced seven Olympians while becoming the all-time winningest women’s hockey coach in NCAA Division I history — with 318 wins at Brown (she is still currently 13th on that all-time wins list).
Everyone Has HerStory
New Tampa resident Marisa Martin, 55, thinks stories like Murphy’s should be shared with as many young female athletes as possible.
“I think it’s very important,” Martin said. “The sad part is, a lot of times, these younger women don’t know the history and that’s a problem. I think it’s a shame, because they’ve been given so much privilege, they don’t realize what was required to get here. I think it’s important to remember the women who came before.”
Martin has her own story. When she was 9 years old, she had to take her 6-year-old brother Lonnie Jr. to sign him up for Little League because their mother was sick that day. With a check made out to Atlantic Little League (in Jacksonville), she and Lonne walked a half-mile to sign up. A woman sitting behind a table jotted down her brother’s name, and then looked up at Marisa and asked if she wanted to play, too.
“I was like, ‘Are you talking to me?,’” Marisa said. And, with a little help from the woman, Marisa signed up for Little League baseball for the first time.
“That woman changed my life,” she said. Marisa ended up playing Little League (and every other sport available to her) as a kid, and played basketball and softball in high school, where in 1981, she helped lead Fletcher High to the Class 4A state softball championship — 13 years before the sport converted from slow to past pitch, thanks in part to Title IX. As an adult, Marisa says she took up tennis and hockey as well.
How It Happened
After Novotny presented the idea to AHCI general manager Gordie Zimmermann, a three-year agreement was signed to bring the museum — which will be developed by Murphy’s Play It Forward Sport Foundation — to Wesley Chapel.
Murphy, a whirling dervish of energy and a fountain of hockey knowledge, was the star of the Grand Opening. But, she shared the space with interactive displays featuring Katey Stone, the winningest women’s coach in NCAA hockey history; gold medal winners Sara DeCosta-Hayes (1998; photo) and Amanda Pelkey (2018); and Kitty Guay, the first woman to ever officiate an NCAA Division I men’s game in 2015.
Another wall in the Herstory Museum will one day feature a local hero, which could be anyone, says Novotny, but will likely be someone with a relationship with hockey. That person hasn’t been selected yet, but visitors were allowed to nominate someone at the grand opening. Novotny says they will choose someone over the next few months.
Admission to the museum is free. For more information, visit GetHerStory.org and PlayItForwardSport.org.