Sports museum coming to Florida Hospital Center Ice

Digit Murphy knows a thing or two about achieving success in the sports industry, as one of the most decorated female hockey coaches of all time.

She was the featured guest speaker during the North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce’s Women of Wesley Chapel event on Dec. 7 at Beach House Assisted Living & Memory Care, at Wiregrass Ranch. Her presentation centered on female empowerment and fostering gender equity in sports.

Digit Murphy, left, is shown with Florida Hospital Center Ice Managing Partner Gordie Zimmermann. Murphy’s nonprofit, Play It Forward Sport Foundation, has partnered with Florida Hospital Center Ice to bring a first-of-its kind women’s sports museum to the Wesley Chapel-based ice complex. The interactive museum is expected to open early next year. (Courtesy of North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce)

She was in town for another announcement, also.

Murphy’s Play It Forward Sport Foundation has partnered with Florida Hospital Center Ice to bring a first-of-its-kind women’s sports museum to the Wesley Chapel-based ice complex. Expected to open early next year, the interactive museum will be situated in one of the facility’s viewing rooms, where visitors will scan a QR code to view content. The room will also feature various historic memorabilia in women’s hockey.

Murphy’s personal history includes starring as a collegiate player at Cornell University and then embarking on a 22-year coaching career at Brown University, where she compiled more than 300 career wins.

At one point, she was the winningest coach in Division I women’s hockey. (She now ranks 13th all-time in career wins in college women’s ice hockey).

In the professional ranks, Murphy spent three years with the Boston Blades of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, becoming the first American-born coach to win two Clarkson Cup titles. She was the first coach to lead a U.S.-based team to two Cup wins.

In addition to coaching, Murphy in 2016 co-founded the United Women’s Lacrosse League, the world’s first-ever pro league for women’s lacrosse.

Murphy, 57, now serves as an advocate for gender equity in sports through United Women’s Sports and nonprofit partner Play It Forward Sport Foundation.

The Laker/Lutz News caught up with Murphy for an exclusive Q-and-A, where she opined on a number of different topics related to women, sports, and of course, hockey.

On why women need to place value on sports for their children:
“We don’t prioritize what sports can do for our kids. We should even see sports as more important than school at some level, because it develops their whole body, and, in a really great way, their mind. It’s about discipline. It’s about being on time. It’s about respect. And, I’m not saying that you don’t learn that in school, but you certainly learn that with the right coach on the field, and that’s where I really believe when (women) can make a difference, if they make sports a part of their life. It teaches you how to deal with adverse situations, and we don’t look at it (sports) like something that’s necessary, we look at it like an activity, and I really, truly believe that it can change people’s lives; sport is a great way to help empower people.”

On the need for more female coaches, especially at the youth levels:
“I think that a voice of having a woman coach, coaching boys is very important, as well as coaching girls. I believe that women can coach differently. They can become comfortable with coaching, with the right mentoring. Unfortunately, coaching is looked at as a nontraditional female (occupation). You can learn the Xs and Os, but you can’t learn the management of kids, and moms do it best. Moms have eyes in the back of their head. We see a lot, so I think we are actually perfect coaches, especially at the young ages. And, keeping it fun. Again, men make it about the Xs and Os. Women have the potential to be better at the younger ages, because they make it fun.”

On building a successful model for women’s professional sports leagues:
“Women (athletes) right now, in my opinion, can’t get off the dime professionally because they operate in silos and there’s not enough critical mass around the model to have sponsors. Like, I see women’s sports as a huge opportunity in the world, because we’re not where men’s sports is, so any visionary and business is going to see it as an option, especially if we do the model differently. Let’s make it sustainable. It doesn’t have to be as big. Make it smaller. Make it community-based. Make it regional. Take the all-stars from that and make it into a pro league. Change the rules. It’s that simple. There’s just so many different models that people aren’t thinking about, because they’re just not thinking about them, because they just accept the status quo. Why do we have to play in these huge stadiums? Maybe we can play in smaller stadiums. Maybe it can be a mother-daughter event as opposed to a daughter-father event like it always turns into.”

On why women’s professional sports leagues have struggled to become viable in the United States:
“I’ve said for years: The reason women’s professional sports doesn’t succeed is because they’re in the wrong cities. I think you need to be in cities that want you. Not just because it’s Boston, New York, Detroit — that’s where all the men (pro sports organizations) are. Go to outliers; they’ve got nothing to do. I remember when I was at Brown, one of our biggest, biggest, biggest venues to go to was Hanover, New Hampshire (to face Ivy League rival Dartmouth University), because there’s nothing else to do in New Hampshire. Same thing with Ithaca, New York (Cornell University). I think sometimes, because we’re so entrenched in the tradition, we can’t think outside the box. You’ve got to find an environment that will embrace it, that has a progressive mindset, that has a community that’s ready to pop. You need energy, you need passion, and you need that positive growth mindset. If you have that, you really can do anything.”

On the advancement of gender equity in college sports in the Title IX era:
“It’s kind of sad that there’s a long way to go. Unfortunately, Title IX’s an entitlement program because you have to have it, and whenever you have to have something, you’re not motivated to do better. And, sometimes, women’s sports are perceived as a suck on the (college) athletic department, because they have to have it, so they just throw it over there and they just do it because they have to have it. But, if women took control of it and gave back to it and nurtured it like they do other things, I think you would see a major shift in athletics. So, I think the people in charge need to change their mindset. They need to change the people that are implementing the practices, and when you start to see that, that’s when you’re going to see Title IX really take control — when you see people embrace it, instead of seeing it as a detriment. And so, I think Title IX has come a long way, but you still see it go on. The problem is we don’t have enough women in the industry. Because, the second you introduce wealth into it, you don’t see a lot of women coaches. You need to have more women leaders, role models and examples. This is what I always say: Title IX works when you see women coaches crossing over to men’s sports.”

On what she’s most proud of from her hockey playing and coaching career:
“I think the moment that I was most proud of probably was in 2015, winning the Clarkson Cup (with the Boston Blades). The way we won it was very important to me. It was a third-line player that scored the goal to win it, and it was in overtime. You know, it was empowering for me to be able to manage a bench that had a whole team playing and contributing; I think that was important. But, I also think that there’s just so many things for me, because I really was a woman that had done a lot of firsts, because there was no one else. Whatever it was, like those firsts really culminated in my life to give me what I can do, which is to give more opportunities.”

On touring the Florida Hospital Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, the largest ice complex in the Southeast United States:
“Unbelievable. I thought I was actually walking into a Canadian rink. It’s very impressive. They thought of all the details. The whole energy that’s around sports in Tampa and Pasco County is very exciting.”

Published December 19, 2018

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