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All-female coaching staff leads BC women’s hockey

Coach Katie Crowley (center) has the BC women’s hockey team ranked No. 6, with help from assistants Courtney Kennedy (left) and Gillian Apps (right).Barry Chin/Globe Staff

The Boston College women’s hockey team takes the ice and something remarkable happens: The players turn to four female coaches for instruction.

Why is that remarkable? Because No. 6-ranked BC is the only team in Division 1 women’s hockey with an all-female coaching staff. Katie Crowley became the head coach in May 2007. Associate head coach Courtney Kennedy and assistants Gillian Apps and Alison Quandt joined Crowley behind the bench. All four coaches played for Division 1 programs and Crowley, Kennedy, and Apps won a combined eight Olympic medals during their national team careers.

A far less impressive eight count? Out of 36 Division 1 women’s hockey teams, only eight have female head coaches. That number includes Harvard’s Katey Stone, the winningest coach in the history of Division 1 women’s hockey.


It’s unacceptable that women’s college hockey doesn’t boast more female head coaches and more all-female staffs, that more qualified women don’t get more opportunities. Maybe that sounds harsh but when considering data collected by the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota, the meter moves from unacceptable to alarming. A couple of years after Title IX was enacted in 1972, the percentage of women coaching women in collegiate sports was at more than 90 percent, but that number has declined to almost an all-time low of 40 percent, according to the Tucker Center.

Behind the declining percentages, there are real losses for female student-athletes. A lot can be said for been-there-done-that female coaches serving as role models for female players, especially for college kids figuring out life. Crowley and her staff have been exactly where their players are today, part of a big-time women’s college program with even bigger dreams for their hockey and non-hockey futures.

“I’m proud that all four of our coaches have been through what these kids are going through,” said Crowley. “We’ve been in these locker rooms and we know what that is like on the female side. That’s an advantage.”


BC captain Andie Anastos believes that female coaches who’ve been in the same locker rooms tend to push their female players more, while she’s heard that some male coaches “don’t want to be too harsh and hold back a little” with female players.

Crowley is “surprised” the college hockey ranks don’t include more female coaches. “If we knew exactly why, then we might have more answers and be able to hunt people down to get into this profession. But part of it has to go back to the fact that it is a young sport,” she said. To wit: The first NCAA women’s hockey tournament took place just 15 years ago.

Part of it also goes back to the athletic directors, who do the hiring and who are predominantly male: At the Division 1 level, the number of female athletic directors has hovered around 10 percent the last couple of years.

As women’s hockey grows and more women build impressive coaching résumés, Crowley said, “Hopefully, they’re given more of a shot.”

For her part, Crowley didn’t set out to build an all-female staff. It happened naturally as she added coaches who fit the program personality-wise and philosophy-wise. Apps, a three-time Olympic gold medalist for Canada, was hired in September.

BC coaches (from left) Gillian Apps, Katie Crowley, and Courtney Kennedy all played for Division 1 hockey programs.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Ironically, the large number of men coaching women’s college hockey, basketball, soccer, and other sports reflects the strides made by women’s sports in recent decades. Long gone are the days when legendary University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt earned $250 a month and drove the team van to games. She earned $1.25 million a year before she stepped down in 2012. Salaries for women’s college hockey coaches haven’t reached those heights, but the top Division 1 coaches can make close to $200,000, sometimes more. So, financially speaking, coaching a women’s college program is a very desirable job in the hockey world.


Another part of the calculation-turned-explanation: The pool of male coaching candidates is larger than the female one. More men play the game at the highest levels, whether that’s on college teams, with national programs, or in professional leagues. There are simply more opportunities, more teams at every level where men can play and coach and collect valuable experience. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t equally or better qualified women out there. The qualifications are simply different. In some cases, more experience playing and coaching with Olympic and national teams than with professional leagues.

Men also have more ways to enter the coaching ranks. It’s not unusual for male head coaches to start on the men’s side, then transition to the women’s game.

Take the résumé of Mark Johnson, head coach of No. 1-ranked Wisconsin: He played for Wisconsin, starred on the 1980 US Olympic men’s hockey team, and competed in the NHL, then became an assistant coach with Wisconsin’s men’s program before he took the women’s job. Or consider Brad Frost, head coach of No. 2-ranked Minnesota: He broke into the college coaching ranks as a men’s assistant at his alma mater, Bethel University, then joined the Minnesota women’s program as an assistant and worked his way up.


What about the team ranked No. 3 in the latest USCHO poll? Well, the University of Minnesota-Duluth has a female head coach. The same goes for the teams ranked No. 6 and No. 8.

At this point, let’s step back and be clear about one thing: There’s nothing wrong with men coaching women and vice versa (though women on the coaching staffs of men’s college teams, in any sport, at any level, are even more rare and remarkable than an all-female staff). Johnson, Frost, and the other male head coaches in Division 1 women’s hockey have put together impressive, respected programs and have demonstrated long-term interest in the women’s game. Unfortunately, some men still use women’s coaching jobs as a way station while awaiting jobs with men’s teams.

But 51 years since the first women’s college hockey team was created, 18 years since women’s hockey debuted at the Winter Olympics, and 15 years since the first women’s NCAA championship tournament, Crowley and staffs like hers should be less remarkable and more commonplace. Maybe in the future all-female staffs will be viewed the way Crowley sees her own. “It’s become normal,” she said.

For that to happen, more women need to earn college coaching jobs. Anastos, whose father is the head coach of the Michigan State men’s hockey program, has thought about becoming a coach after her playing days. The good news for her: Until then, she doesn’t need to look any farther than this afternoon’s practice to see how other women get the job done.


Fair Play is a regular column that explores the challenges girls and women face in today’s sports world, as well as their athletic accomplishments.