Women’s hockey fans are familiar with the name Digit Murphy. Evoking a standard of coaching excellence, Murphy’s legacy is without dispute. The first woman to be inducted into Brown University’s Wall of Honor, she led the Bears to over 300 wins, a program mark that is poised to stand for generations.
In a remarkable three-year run with the CWHL’s Boston Blades, Murphy became the first female coach to lead her team to three straight Clarkson Cup appearances, and the first female coach to also win two Clarkson Cups. In addition, she was also the winning coach for the CWHL’s inaugural All-Star Game. Although her absence from the Blades this season marks a significant loss for CWHL hockey, she is still heavily involved in women’s sports.
Noted as a Title IX champion, Murphy is working with Aronda Kirby (also co-founders of the Play It Forward Sport movement), who was the Blades’ General Manager during such a magical time, and have blazed an empowering new trail in women’s lacrosse. The result is the UWLX, the first professional league of its kind for women in lacrosse, one that shall see its first chapter written in the spring of 2016.
While Murphy acquired a remarkable skill set as a head coach with Brown, molding a generation of young women into leaders and role models in society, her three seasons with the Blades also resulted in business acumen. Along with Aronda Brown, the two conceived numerous marketing ideas, including a charitable golf tournament.
Their collaborative efforts are poised to transform the UWLX into the next great venture for female sport in America. Considering that the sport has been contested for years at the NCAA level, many of these talented women in the sport had no place to go after their collegiate careers reached its twilight.
Adding to the growing awareness of women in lacrosse was the legendary Devon Wills. Of note, Wills was signed by the National Lacrosse League, a professional men’s league that has existed for over two decades, breaking the gender barrier. Currently, Wills works as an associate head coach with the University of Southern California’s lacrosse team.
Since the hiring of Michele DJ Dejuliis as the commissioner for UWLX, there has been no shortage of interest among players, eager to extend their careers. Young stars that could serve as a cornerstone for the league include Covington Stanwick and Sarah Mannelly, a remarkable duo with Boston College, Kayla Treanor from Syracuse and Michigan’s Katie Mezwa. Recognized as one of the top Division I players in the US Lacrosse Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Associates, Mezwa led the Wolverines to a 15-1 record and a spot in the NCAA tournament.
With programs such as Duke, North Carolina and Virginia constantly among the best in the country, it would come as no surprise if they become the power plants for producing elite long term talent for the UWLX. As a side note, such regions would also be ideal spots for franchises, helping provide a strong voice for women’s professional sports.
Considering Murphy and Brown held backgrounds in hockey, their decision to venture into lacrosse may have been perceived as unforeseen. As the architects of a sustainable business model for women in sport, their inspiration came from several sources.
Through the efforts of their PR company, “The Barnyard Group”, several events in New York were the catalyst to augment discussion and encouragement in the fight for pay equity, one that has hovered over women’s hockey like a black cloud for far too long. Among said events was an invitation to the Impact Leadership 21 Summit at the United Nations, which brought much needed awareness to the struggles of pay equity, especially the unfair dismissal of fellow coaching legend Shannon Miller.
The stage where discussion and planning evolved into reality took place in the unlikeliest of places, with a coincidental link to hockey. Every spring, coaches from throughout the United States attend the AHCA convention in Naples, Florida, a focal point where individuals gather for learning, idea sharing and the opportunity to expand their set of contacts.
While there, Murphy ran into a pair of representatives from STX, a manufacturer of sporting equipment. One of the representatives, Ed Saunders, had hockey roots in New England, where he once worked for Hockey East in a media relations capacity. Having known Murphy from that role, as Brown was based in Rhode Island, the two shared stories, and intrigue grew from Murphy’s experiences in New York with the pay equity discussion.
Revealing to Murphy that STX is also involved in lacrosse, even sponsoring a group of female players to compete with Team STX (although they are not in a formal league), it would serve as the motivational vehicle that helped bring about UWLX. With STX proudly on board as an equipment sponsor, providing encouragement along this remarkable journey, an outpouring of support and appreciation has been felt throughout the lacrosse community, the result has been a labor of love for Murphy and Brown, as the message of equal opportunity in sport only grows stronger.