Digit Murphy, pictured here coaching the Chinese National women’s hockey team.
(Photo courtesy of Digit Murphy via Getty Images).

Margaret “Digit” Murphy was strolling through the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH, one day, and asked one of the employees if there were any exhibits about some of the women — either executives, referees or television announcers — that had left their mark on the game.

“Follow me,” the employee said, and proceeded to take Murphy on a fruitless tour. Apologizing, the employee simply said, “Well, it used to be here.”

Murphy thought for the richest sports league in the world, pro football’s $100-million Hall of Fame would at least have something dedicated to women. But, she wasn’t really that surprised it didn’t.

“We can’t tell our story anywhere,” sighed Murphy. But, that sparked an idea.

Along with Wesley Chapel’s Jeff Novotny, Murphy has hatched an idea to bring those kind of stories, in this case, those specifically related to ice hockey, to the people.

First stop: Saturday, March 9, 1 p.m. at AdventHealth Center Ice (AHCI).

That day will mark the grand opening of the “Herstory Museum,” which will feature interactive displays on the second floor of Center Ice, in a viewing room next to the Top Shelf restaurant and sports bar, overlooking two of the skating complex’s ice rinks.

The grand opening will coincide with a large girls hockey tournament at AHCI, providing for a perfect backdrop. Murphy will be on hand to introduce the newest feature at the rink.

And, admission to the museum will be free.

Murphy is one of women’s hockey’s pioneers, as well a key force behind some high-profile cases involving 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.

She was having dinner with Novotny one night when she mentioned the idea of creating a “mini” museum, one that wouldn’t require its own building but could make use of technology to offer a wealth of important information and overlooked stories in a smaller space.

Jeff Novotny

Novotny, a project manager for American Consulting Professionals, LLC, immediately thought AHCI would be the perfect place for it, having taken in more than a million visitors in less than two years after opening, hosting dozens of hockey tournaments and serving as the home training facility for the 2018 U.S. Women’s Hockey gold medal winners.

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.

“You want to go to places that embrace you,” Murphy says. “Wesley Chapel has bent over backwards for us.”

For Novotny, the museum is a labor of love. He has three daughters, all athletes. His youngest daughter, Madison, spurred his interest in women’s hockey. Madison currently plays prep school hockey at the Northwood School in Lake Placid, NY.

He said bringing Murphy’s story and the Herstory Museum to Center Ice is a real boon for girls hockey. 

“She’s a legend,” he says. “It will inspire girls who read her story.”

The room housing Herstory on the second floor of AHCI is only about 100 square feet or so. When visitors walk in, they will immediately see a virtual brick wall where they can purchase a virtual brick, with the money raised going towards running the museum and for a scholarship for a local athlete. There also will be a selfie wall, where visitors can snap self-portraits and post them to social media.

The first display will feature Murphy, a former Ivy League Player of the Year at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. She also produced seven Olympians while becoming (at one time) the all-time winningest women’s hockey coach in NCAA Division I history with 318 wins at Brown (she is currently 13th on that list).

At the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, she became the first American female color analyst for a women’s ice hockey game broadcast on television and, in 2015, along with Aronda Kirby, founded the UWLX, the first professional women’s lacrosse league in the U.S. 

Murphy and Kirby also founded the Play It Forward Sport Foundation, which is geared towards gender equity in women’s sports.

Honoring The Legends

Others who will have displays at the museum are:

• Katey Stone, who today is the winningest women’s coach in NCAA hockey history and the coach of the 2014 women’s silver-medal winning Olympic Team; 

• Sara DeCosta-Hayes, the goalie on the first U.S. women’s team to win a gold medal at the Olympics (in 1998); 

• Amanda Pelkey, the University of Vermont’s all-time leading scorer and a member of the 2018 U.S. team that trained in Wesley Chapel and won the gold medal in South Korea; and 

• Kitty Guay, who refereed games in the 2018 Olympics and most recently became the first woman to referee the famous 67-year-old Beanpot ice hockey tournament in February.

“We just want to elevate the conversation and tell stories that don’t get told enough,” Murphy says. “They just disappear, and they shouldn’t. Now, they will be there for the girls and the kids in the community. That’s the only way to advance the conversation and have women’s sports matter.”

Each of the featured women will have their own large vinyl display, and visitors can access a QR Code, or send a text to a certain number, to get more information and videos about each inductee. All of the information will be available online at GetHerStory.org.

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 Novotny says that, at the grand opening, they will be putting out a call for nominations and hope to choose someone over the next few months.

Novotny says the recent success of the U.S. women’s team, and Zimmermann’s commitment to helping advance girls hockey in Florida, makes AHCI the perfect place for Herstory. He and Murphy would like to see the concept of recognizing women in sports scaled for other organizations as well, like the new Wiregrass Indoor Sports Complex — which could do similar mini-museums for volleyball players and gymnasts, as well as for high schools and universities and even corporations.

“The whole reason we’re doing this is for little girls to have leaders and role models,” Murphy says. “We want them to see there have been women just like them. If you can see it, you can be it.”

For more information, visit GetHerStory.org and PlayItForwardSport.org.

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