BIDDEFORD — Angela Ruggiero was 9 years old when she was told she couldn’t play on an all-star hockey team because she was a girl even though, she said, “I was the third or fourth best skater on the team.”

She was heartbroken. Her father told her she could either quit or keep pushing. But if she were going to keep pushing, he told her, “You have to be the best.”

And that’s what she did. Ruggiero, now 42, played in four Winter Olympics for the U.S. women’s ice hockey team. She won one gold medal, two silvers and a bronze and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015.

Ruggiero was the main speaker Monday night at the Harold Alfond Forum at the University of New England as part of the school’s Summit Speaker Series. In recognition of the approaching 50th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark legislation that prohibited discrimination based on sex, the Maine Sports Commission joined with UNE for a presentation about gender equity entitled Champions of Equality.

Her message to a large group of students was simply that everyone can make a difference, especially males.  She said to make a positive impact, “you first start by asking why; then you recognize the unfairness of what is happening; then you try to determine how you can make it better.”

Joining Ruggiero were Reagan Carey (the former general manager of the U.S. women’s ice hockey program and a member of the Maine Sports Hall of Fame), Heather Davis (the director of athletics at UNE), Abigail Thelin (the director of event presentation for the New England Patriots and a Cape Elizabeth native) and Emma Tiedemann (the director of  broadcasting and radio voice for the Portland Sea Dogs).


“To be honest, I’m a little starstruck,” said UNE’s Davis, the only female collegiate athletic director in Maine. “I mean, they’re all pioneers and they’re stars. And it’s humbling to have them here and hear their stories and it’s exciting for our students to learn from these legends.”

They talked about their experiences in a sports world dominated by men. They spoke about the difficulties of getting into that world and then staying there. For example, even after she won a gold medal with the U.S. ice hockey team, Ruggiero was barred from playing at a Michigan ice rink because it was for men only.

She, and other females, was eventually allowed to play there.

“I’m a gender equality advocate because I was personally affected as a young person and experienced the pain of being left out,” said Ruggiero. “That kind of formalized a lot of my thinking at a young age.”

Sports, she said, opened her whole world. Once it did, she said it became important to “make sure boys and girls have that same opportunity.”

Title IX, Ruggiero said, “is always in jeopardy,” and that you cannot relax when it comes to compliance because Title IX’s reach goes beyond mere participation.

“I think it’s getting better,” she said. “And the biggest thing is there’s just more awareness around it and people are willing to step up and say something.”

Carey said the impact of Title IX is evident in the number of female athletes who attended the event. But again, she added, the work isn’t finished.

“They’re the beneficiaries of Title IX, as we are, but moreso for them,” she said. “But we don’t want to be that marathoner who’s in the last mile and starts celebrating too soon. You know, you fumble and you don’t get to that finish line. We want to carry it through and see this next generation understand that a lot of people that we don’t even know the names of put a lot of work in, men and women, to make sure we got to this spot. But there’s a lot more work to be done.”

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