NORTH SMITHFIELD – They built bonds on the rink decades ago and now, four North Smithfield natives have reunited, and hope to share the lessons they learned through the sport of ice hockey – and one particularly inspiring coach – with a new generation of girls.
Crystal Verrier, Kelsey Pepler, Cayla Simmons and Brianna Quider were players on North Smithfield High School’s inaugural girls’ hockey team in 2002. All four graduated from the school between 2005 and 2006, and went off to college.
Pepler went on to play for Castleton State College, later joining the Air National Guard.
Verrier continued hockey in a mens inline league in central Massachusetts, where she was the first female player. She later became the first and only female referee for the league.
Simmons became the school nurse at NSHS, and both she and Quider served as assistant coaches for the Mount St Charles/Lincoln/Cumberland girls hockey co-op team last year.
Nearly 20 years later, the four former NSHS athletes reunited in March at a banquet put on by the Rhode Island Interscholastic League. And they got to talking as old friends sometimes do.
Pepler, Simmons and Quider were all participants with Digit Murphy Hockey Camps in the early 2000s. The women discussed how the camps, put on by trailblazing ice hockey coach, administrator, and former college ice hockey player Margaret Pearl “Digit” Murphy, inspired them to continue to pursue playing hockey into adulthood, as well as to become coaches later in life.
Murphy and her partner Aronda Kirby, a former general manager for the Boston Blades, established the Play It Forward Sport Foundation, which works toward gender equity at all levels of sport, with a focus on creating leaders through participation in women’s sports.
“The average ability level of the RIIL girls hockey league is quite exceptional, but the games are still relatively empty,” Verrier told NRI NOW. “The schools don’t always announce the girls games.”
Looking for a way to bridge the talent gap and unite the girls hockey community, the North Smithfield women have organized a three-day hockey clinic at RI Sports Center this summer – led by Murphy herself. The Unsung Hero girls hockey development clinic will take place at the North Smithfield-based rink June 26 through 28, from noon to 2 p.m.
The program is open to girls ages 11 through 18, and aims to step outside the typical “skills and drills-based approach,” by providing female hockey athletes the opportunity to build confidence on and off the ice by developing leadership and communication skills.
“We feel like we can change the way we as women see ourselves as athletes, and hopefully in turn that confidence can influence not only the community to be more supportive, but to create a generation of women who are advocates for themselves and others,” explained Verrier.
“Digit doesn’t just teach ice hockey tips, but also lots of life lessons,” noted Quider on social media.
Coaches are also invited to join and learn from coach mentor Murphy, with half hour prep and debrief sessions.
The clinic is launched in partnership with Murphy’s Play It Forward, which aims be the catalyst for the professional women’s sports leagues, and to empower women as leaders in the community, in business, as mentors and as professionals.
As such, the clinic will be supported and driven by a 100 percent female staff, with a focus on confidence building through leadership and team skills.
“Our goal is for players to leave this clinic gaining not only physical skill and strength, but the mental benefits of increased confidence, self awareness and support from other girls,” notes a write up on the event.
Dubbed Unsung Hero, the three-day clinic shares its name with an award given by the RIIL, the Digit Murphy Unsung Hero Award, for the person on the team who always does the right thing on and off the ice without expecting any of the glory.
“We want to create an environment where we aren’t competing for the glory, but for the love of the game and the community,” said Verrier. “We want an army of unsung heroes working hard to develop not only themselves but to build each other up.”
The clinic costs $200 and is open to young female athletes of all ability levels. For coaches who wish to participate, the cost is $50.
The organizers note that many kids will be unable to attend clinics due to financial constraints and are looking for individuals and businesses to help out by donating products, sponsoring a child to play, or spreading the word of their efforts.
“Your support could be the start of a young woman’s future,” notes the group.
For more information and access to the sponsorship portal, visit https://www.playitforwardsport.org/sponsor-a-kid or to register, visit https://www.playitforwardsport.org/clinic-registration.