Women’s sports museum opens in Wesley Chapel

Wesley Chapel’s AdventHealth Center Ice is widely known as the training grounds of the gold-medal winning 2018 U.S. Olympic women’s ice hockey team.

The Women’s Sports Herstory Museum is a virtual museum dedicated to female pioneers in hockey. Located on the second floor of the AdventHealth Center Ice hockey complex, it features interactive wall panel displays where visitors scan QR codes from their phones to view content online; the museum is also decorated with various female hockey memorabilia and equipment. (Kevin Weiss)

Now, the 150,500-square-foot ice sports complex houses what is believed to be the first virtual museum dedicated to women’s hockey trailblazers.

The museum, called the Women’s Sports Herstory Museum, is the brainchild of female hockey coaching legend Digit Murphy and her friend, Jeff Novotny, a Wesley Chapel resident.

Situated in a second-floor viewing room of the ice hockey complex, 3173 Cypress Ridge Blvd., the museum features interactive wall panel displays where visitors scan QR codes to view content online in the form of videos and in-depth stories.

The poster-sized displays highlight several of hockey’s female pioneers, including Katey Stone,  the first-ever female head coach of a USA Hockey team in the Olympics and current head coach at Harvard University; Katie Guay, the first to officiate an NCAA Division I men’s hockey game; Sara DeCosta Hayes, a two-time USA Hockey Women’s Player of the Year; Amanda Pelkey, a 2018 gold medalist and all-time scoring leader at the University of Vermont; and, of course, Murphy, who became the winningest coach in Division I women’s hockey at Brown University.

The room is also decorated with various sports memorabilia and equipment, including a signed jersey and signed pictures of all 23 members of the U.S. Olympic women’s ice hockey team.

At some point, the museum will highlight a “local hero” for women’s sports in the Tampa Bay area.

Women’s Sports Herstory Museum co-curator Digit Murphy speaks at a March 6 VIP event at AdventHealth Center Ice in Wesley Chapel.

“Girls and women need to hear the stories of the women that played before them,” Murphy said, during a March 6 VIP event for the museum. “When girls and women walk through this museum, I want them to see themselves sitting in the seats of the women that came before them. We need our little girls looking in this room going, ‘Oh, I could be a gold medalist…’”

She continued, “It’s really important that people see their heroes and leaders and role models in pictures and stories, because, especially in sports, you see men all the time and you don’t see it for girls.”

The museum — which opened to the public on March 9 — will be housed at Center Ice for the next three years, through a room sponsorship from Murphy’s Play it Forward Sport and United Women’s Sports organizations, which also will award $1,000 scholarships to local female high school seniors.

The concept was born last year after Murphy took a visit to Canton, Ohio, where she discovered — and became irked — that a $100 million expansion was being made in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Murphy recalled the moment: “I’m like, ‘$100 million for football? Unbelievable.’”

Digit Murphy is the winningest coach in Division I women’s hockey at Brown University.

From that, the hockey legend got in touch with Novotny, an engineer, who figured they could develop a platform where museums about women’s sports could be brought to already existing venues.

“I recognize the importance of how it’s important that we celebrate the women in our lives that do special things, so this was an opportunity to kind of do something unique,” said Novotny, who met Murphy years ago at a hockey clinic for one of his daughters.

Novotny then reached out to AdventHealth Center Ice general manager Gordie Zimmermann, who signed off on a virtual museum in his facility.

Zimmermann is pleased with how it turned out.

“This is an inspiring room, for sure,” Zimmermann said, during the VIP event. “We walk by this room constantly and there’s little kids in here hanging on the walls and now they’re going to be looking at the walls instead.

“We’ve always talked about girls hockey and what can we do with girls hockey. There is a place, for sure, in this sport for girls and the future’s so bright for them.”

Meanwhile, the Wesley Chapel location could be just the tip of the iceberg for Murphy and Novotny’s virtual women’s sports museum initiative.

The co-curators hope to expand the project to highlighting women in various other sports in other cities.

Novotny said they’ve even been approached by some universities to create a virtual museum for their alumni female athletes. “It’s scalable to any sport,” he said.

And, Murphy wants to see the virtual museums “everywhere.”

“We want this to be something that goes viral,” she said. “We want more of women’s stories out there, so that Herstory can happen.”

For more information about the museum, visit GetHerStory.com.

Published March 13, 2019

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