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Pandas on Ice: Looking at the legacy of the Pandas

Nancy Schieffelin

Oh, there are lots of things. I love the speed.

Cappy Cummings

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If you can skate, you can go fast. I loved the strategy. I loved making plays. I loved faking people out.

Marcia Hoffer

Skating is such an amazing feeling because you're gliding. The feel of gliding over the ice is just so cool

Music

Jacob Smollen

Those were early members of the Pembroke Pandas reflecting on what they loved about skating and playing hockey.

I’m Jacob Smollen, podcast editor and metro editor, and this is Pandas On Ice, a podcast series about the Pembroke Pandas — the country’s first intercollegiate women’s hockey team — and everything that happened afterward.

In our third and final episode, we catch up with the Pandas at their reunion and hear about the legacy of the inaugural team today.

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Jacob Smollen

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It’s the morning before the Brown-Harvard hockey game, and a hockey puck props open the door to the locker rooms snaking beneath the Meehan auditorium stands. On the ice, former Pandas and Bears as far back as the early 1970s have returned to play in the alumni game.

Nancy Schieffelin, set to drop the puck later in the evening, is also visiting for the festivities. We meet at Meehan and go for a walk. The music is too loud inside the rink: She tells me I should be cold — I forgot to bring a sweatshirt — but I tell her I’m fine.

Nancy Schieffelin

You must be freezing!

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Jacob Smollen (@the game)

A little bit…

Jacob Smollen

We pass through the athletics quad away from a particularly loud leaf blower and sit down on a quiet set of stone steps by one of Brown’s soccer fields.

Jacob Smollen

Uhh, okay I might have to like, stop and adjust the like levels.

Nancy Schieffelin

Oh, sure, sure.

Jacob Smollen

I think it should work.

Jacob Smollen

Nancy wore a gray sweatshirt and blue glasses. She has short dark gray hair. She was relaxed. She seemed more comfortable sitting on these uncomfortable steps than I was.

I asked her again about Fullerton and his initial request. She didn’t think it was sexist then, but what about now? And what about the role that moment had in her life?

Nancy Schieffelin

They were having a lousy season. And so what you wanted to have me come on, this is what I understood that my role was, he wanted me to come on the eyes. And to, you know, prove to them — I mean, I wasn’t as good as any one of them — but prove to them that girls can do it. I only years later realize that's, you know, that's a sexist thing.

It's a conundrum. I mean, I, I’m not sure I can, I don’t know what his motivation was exactly. But it did have the consequence of getting me fired up to start hockey to play hockey here on this rink with, you know, whomever I could and it was gym, you know, my gym class and said let's do it. (Laughs) It was that silly.

Jacob Smollen

Nancy connected her time in Mississippi, where she said organizers used her and other wealthy, predominantly white college students to increase the visibility of the movement, particularly in the media — to how Fullerton used her during the Panda’s founding moments. 

Nancy Schieffelin

Just as with I mean, sort of my innocence or naivete about going to Mississippi, same thing I did, in a way, we were pawns being brought down there, but I'm glad I was a pawn there. And in a way, I was a pawn here. Well I'm glad I was because, you know, we've got this going on. So that's kind of the way I think about it now.

Jacob Smollen

These days Nancy coaches mites, children between the ages of five and eight — she has for nearly two decades. The team, which she volunteers for on Sunday mornings, is organized by a program called SCORE Boston, which she told me is part of the National Hockey League’s initiative for diversity and opportunity. 

The program primarily focuses on kids with limited access to resources, the kids who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to play hockey, Nancy said. She has a blast. The mites also represent a reconciliation between her social justice work, which pushed her away from Pembroke and the Pandas in the ’60s, and hockey.

Nancy Schieffelin

 I feel like most of my adult life has been to bring these sort of weird things together. And because I truly think I mean, I've always thought that sport is for, for me, it served as an anchor and as a way to feel confident about myself.

Music Starts

Jacob Smollen

In our initial conversation over Zoom several months ago, I asked Nancy how she felt about the Pandas’ legacy. This is what she told me.

Nancy Schieffelin

 I feel pretty good about it. I have no idea. Having the new rink and playing this one scrimmage with these guys. That's what got me going. And I didn't know any other young women. I didn't know any. There was never a girl on any of the teams that I played on. 

So it was just fun to be on the ice. And it wasn't terrific hockey for you. No way at all. What surprised me so much is that was 1964. 

1998, women were playing in the Olympics. I mean, that’s not a very long span of time.”

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Jacob Smollen 

Sixty years after the team’s initial founding, Melanie Ruzzi, the current head coach for the women’s hockey team reflected on the impact that hockey alums have had on the entire culture of women’s sports at Brown and the community they formed in the process. 

Melanie Ruzzi 

Alums from this program are super passionate about women's hockey. They're passionate about their place at Brown as being kind of founding members of really women's sports to like, this is pre-Title IX. So it wasn't like Brown had to start women's sports. It's like, an opportunity because some women wanted to do this.

Jacob Smollen

This impact is still felt by players on the team today. According to Margot Norehad ’27 knowledge of the team’s history was a major reason for her wanting to join it. 

Margot Norehad

It was definitely a big factor. Knowing that this organization, this Division I team has gone through so much. And there's players before you that have just built the organization up to where it is today. It's just really special.

Brown has reached a new level every year. And I think every time you pull on that jersey, and where that B, it just represents everyone that came before you. And the people that just built up the program for many years. And I think we're going nowhere, but up from here.

Jacob Smollen 

According to Ruzzi, this legacy includes support from former players as well.

Melanie Ruzzi

It's like my job is to make sure that we're grateful, like Margot said, for like what's been built here. But also to know that this network is around them. Like I think the the gratitude is to know, you can pick up the phone without ever having met any of these women and just say, Hey, I'm on the women's ice hockey team at Brown, and immediately you're gonna get an answer. And it's like, what can I do for you?

Jacob Smollen

Alums like Marcia Hoffer ’71 P’08 still go to every game — except when it’s icy out. Hoffer said that she even makes a handwritten list of each player’s number and position to help her learn the names of the new players on the team every year.

Marcia Hoffer

Well, I’m one of their biggest fans. And sometimes I bake them cookies and, uh, just support them, I’m as supportive as I can be.

Jacob Smollen

That sense of community has existed since the very beginning of the team. In interviews, almost every former player told me the same thing: The team was exciting, it was a new community and above all, it was fun.

PJ Hamel (Pembroke Center Archive)

The camaraderie with the … with the girls, the smell of the ice — I can still smell that smell when you walk into Meehan Auditorium for practice late at night, and you would just take a deep breath, cold air and the smell of the ice shavings and the…the…kind of the diesel fuels from the Zamboni, and you think, “Oh! This is the life! Playing ice hockey with these other girls.”

Jacob Smollen

That was PJ Hamel ’75, then Peggy McKearney, with audio courtesy of the Pembroke Center Oral History Archive. The community also left many players, like Linnea Gillman ’67, then Linnea Stewart, with lifelong memories and experiences.

Linnea Gillman

I’ve forgotten most everything over the last 60 years. One thing I do remember is I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I first could lift the puck up off the ice and direct it to where I wanted it to go. I had never seen a puck before I got to Brown.

Jacob Smollen

But, even if at times the team didn’t take itself too seriously, as several early Pandas told me, there was still a sense that the existence of the team itself was remarkable.

Here’s Linda Fox, one of the original captains of the Pandas in the mid-1960s.

Linda Fox

What was fun is that we knew we were doing something special. We knew that we were initiating a new experience for women. And part of it was to demonstrate that women weren't frail little creatures, but in fact, could play a game that many people had deemed inappropriate for women. And that was satisfying. 

Jacob Smollen

Many of the former Pandas, like Fox, told me that they were proud of what the program had become — proud of what they’d started. When hockey comes up in conversation, they say they jump on the opportunity.

Here’s Marion Dancy ’70:

Marion Dancy

I often tell people, you know, when I was a college I was a goalie they go, you were a goalie, oh my gosh! I'm very proud, you know, I will tell people you know if they happen to ask so yeah, I was there at the beginning, when we had to borrow jerseys, borrow equipment, train with the freshmen guys.

Jacob Smollen

Several early Pandas told me that they turned to hockey when they saw there were not opportunities to play other sports, like gymnastics, rowing or soccer. They wanted to be on a team. This Bonnie Bethea ’69 P’91, P’92, then Bonnie Falkof, describing that experience:

Bonnie Bethea

I always tell people when we talk about college days and what we’ve done and I say to people well I played on the first, you know, women’s college hockey team in the days when there really weren’t any we were kind of in the forefront of that and, and that, that is kind of fun to think that you started something like that. And had a chance to be part of it. That was really important for women.

Jacob Smollen

Today, just outside of the women’s locker room, there’s a display recounting the history of the Pandas, including a photo of the original team. The title reads: “Build on the distinction of those before you.”

The changes at Meehan were a pleasant surprise for some Pandas, including Dancy 

Marion Dancy

I did not know that the Pandas photos were now in Meehan and along with the varsity teams. And so I went over there and sure enough there was our team with with me. And I had no idea so that was a real surprise. And you know, it's great that finally that pandas was really recognized.

Jacob Smollen

Same goes for Fox.

Linda Fox

Um…it's slightly overwhelming to see all the equipment and the locker rooms and all the plaques and everything. My name on several walls. (Laughs)

Jacob Smollen

Reflecting on the evolution of the women’s hockey program, and the importance of remembering that shared history, here’s Tara Mounsey ’02.5, a former Olympian who played at Brown in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Tara Mounsey

They didn’t have the nice equipment that we had. They didn’t have, you know, all the support of the administration. And they had support, but it’s, it’s definitely changed, right? Like, you don't have to wear men’s warm-up suits or what’s leftover from the men’s program. 

It’s absurd, first of all, but you know, and ridiculous that women were treated so differently, but to see what those women endured, so that we didn’t have to.

Music

Jacob Smollen

For some Pandas, hockey has continued to play a role in their lives since leaving the team. Nancy said she finally learned the basics of positioning as an adult while on teams like the Zambeauties and the Motherpuckers as well as in the South Shore Women’s Hockey League.

Cappy Nunlist ’70, formerly Cappy Cummings Nunlist, class of 1970, kept playing well into adulthood, joining a men’s league in Newport News, Virginia with her husband.

Cappy Cummings

We were playing with them when I got pregnant. And I told my husband I want to keep playing till I score a goal. And I usually scored, you know, once during the game or no more than two games. Well, I went about three games without scoring. And by this time, I was about four months-plus pregnant and my husband and I were getting a bit worried. But I finally scored. No one on the team knew I was pregnant. 

And I scored. I said “Yes! I can stop’ and they said ‘what?’

I said ‘I’m pregnant, I need to stop.’ And the goalie I scored on was so disgusted he said ‘I just got scored on by a pregnant woman’ and he stomped off the ice.

Music Here

Jacob Smollen

Back at Meehan, it’s a late October evening, unseasonably hot.

After the puck drops, I catch Nancy as she’s walking back into the stands. We talk standing by the railing overlooking the lower level of Meehan, looking out over the ice which she said was so beautiful sixty years ago. 

The mic stays off. She tells me she can’t believe I came back to the rink without a sweatshirt, again.

She talks about how much the game has changed since she played, about Mounsey and the other Olympians, and Brown and the little niche of it that she loves so much. And she shows me a handwritten letter from one of the current team captains, thanking her for starting the team. She says that the other original Pandas in attendance tonight all received letters of their own.

Then we’re interrupted by a group of current players not playing in the evening’s game.

“Are you Nancy?” one of them asks. “You started it all.”

I step aside as they start to talk. Once a Panda, always a Panda.

Music

Jacob Smollen

That’s it for Pandas on Ice. A very special thanks to all of the Pandas, and Bears, who were generous with their time and willing to be interviewed for this story. 

This episode was scripted and produced me, Jacob Smollen, and Finn Kirkpatrick, and edited by Tom Li, Finn Kirkpatrick and Christine Okulo. The episode was reported by me, Jacob Smollen, Linus Lawrence, Finn Kirkpatrick and Maya Kelly, with additional help from Carter Moyer, Christine Okulo, Annabelle Kim, Megan Wang, Jaanu Ramesh, Rohey Jasseh, Sonya McNatt, Hayal Lily Karakus, Tevah Gevelber and Julia Gallent. 

If you like what you hear, subscribe to Brown Daily Herald podcasts wherever you like to listen and leave a review. Thanks for listening! We’ll see you next semester.



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