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Fighting for the Opportunity to Play

By Angela Brastad, 09/28/17, 12:00PM PDT


Cindy Dayley presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award

Western Washington Female Hockey Association honored Cindy Dayley on September 10th with their Lifetime Achievement Award – in recognition of her vision, dedication, and commitment to grow WWFHA and girls’ hockey.

It ends with their joy, which sparkles in their eyes, that confidence exuding that carries them into the next phase of their life.  But it starts with a dream--a belief that change can be made, that goals can be reached, that each and every girl will reach their highest potential.

Excitement permeates the air as the Western Washington Female Hockey Association (WWFHA) begins their 2017-2018 season with the launch of the first ever all girl ice hockey league in Seattle, a historic event. WWFHA was established in 2002 with only 2 teams and has now grown to support nearly all age and ability levels, from beginners to a 19U Rep Tier 2/AA nationally bound team.

This growth could not be possible, however, without people like Cindy Dayley, who devote their time and energy to making this association a success. Cindy's lifelong dream was to see an all-girl ice hockey league in Seattle. And now, with the growth and success of the association’s Learn to Play beginner program which averages 45 girls per class, it is possible.

Cindy started on the ice at Highland Ice Arena as a figure skater at a young age. Her coach, John Lettengarver, a figure skater who placed at Nationals and Worlds, and was on the 1984 Olympic team, taught her the grace of skating, the toughness of competition, and eventually helped her and her parents realize that her true passion was hockey.  Inspired by Bobby Orr’s skating ability, vision on the ice and dominance in the game, she decided to go for it.  But the male-dominated sport did not come easy to Cindy.  There were no girls’ teams or leagues to play in at the time, and females were not yet welcomed or accepted in the Seattle ice hockey scene in the 70's. Her father's fantastic coaching and hockey mind, in addition to her mother’s strength, guided her path on and off the ice.

"The biggest heartbreak was the mother of a male teammate of mine who complained constantly about me being on the ice with her son. Her complaints eventually resulted in me being removed from the team" says Cindy.

Cindy felt the discrimination of being the only girl. No one talked to her, and she changed in a closet instead of a locker room. But Cindy faced the adversity, chose to stick with hockey and overcome the challenges instead of letting it defeat her or hold her back. She remained in the game and found a new place to play in an adult women's team who accepted her with open the age of 11.

Before collegiate women's hockey was truly formed, Cindy played in Canada on the elite AAA teams, the highest level available at the time. As a US player she helped the Surrey team get to the national championship game being one of the leading scorers; however, they would not let her play in the tournament because she was an American. 

"It has not been an easy road for Cindy", Colin Nurse, president of WWFHA, says, "She is a forward thinker, a pioneer, and often times when you are the front face you take the most heat. Cindy has developed a thick skin because of what she has gone through, and this has helped her to continue to push girl’s hockey with humility. She is a very honest and ethical person who is just trying to do the right thing, and she has risen above it all. Her efforts are making girls’ hockey more visible, even on a national level, and she has become a polarizing figure in this historically male-dominated sport."

Cindy would later return to Seattle and play for men's full check hockey leagues. She was fast and kept her head up supporting her teammates as they supported her. At pickup games when teams were picked, the few men who knew her reputation would always choose "the girl".

In the mid-1990s Cindy spearheaded and coached the first girls’ elite travel AAA rep team in this area at Seattle Junior Hockey Association. She led them to win the the Canadian league title -- the first US team to do so, and helped generate exposure of her players to collegiate scouts – a first for our region.  Later, she became the co-founder and head coach of a girls’ elite program called the 49th Parallel Program, developing camps, clinics and teams in the Pacific Northwest of the US and Southwest Canada to enhance elite level players and prepare them for the college placement process.  She also co-created, developed and implemented the first women's inline league in Seattle. Out of that league, she a built a team that won the 1998 inline hockey national championships within four months of formation.

While Cindy was busy coaching inline hockey, ice hockey players from the University of Washington Huskies men’s team were taking notice.  A few players met with her, told her they had been watching her, and said they would like her to coach their team.  She listened to what they wanted to do, who they wanted to be, and where they wanted to go and then asked, "Why do you want female coaches? Won't that be an issue?" They responded, "You have something to teach and we have something to learn. That is it."

Almost a year before, Cindy and her assistant coach met with the UW Athletic Director at that time, Barbara Hedges, about starting a men's and women's varsity program at the UW. Hedges mentioned that the PAC10 board didn’t have much experience in hockey; thus, there was no one to champion the effort. She then suggested Cindy could coach the men's non-varsity hockey team already at the school. A year later when the opportunity came up, Cindy took it.

Cindy and her assistant coach, Zoe Harris, walked into the Lynnwood Ice Arena for their first practice with the Huskies. Zoe, nervous as she saw the players waiting in the lobby for them--some 2 feet taller than them—asked,  "Cindy, what are we doing here?" Cindy paused and responded, "We are coaching we always do." That perspective allowed them both to step on the ice with the Huskies and coach them confidently – the coaches and players focused on hockey instead of gender.  In a six year span the team compiled a 104-43-1 record, earning numerous team trophies. Cindy was named ACHA-West Region Coach of the Year and PAC-8 Coach of the Year twice.  Her coaching paraphernalia now resides in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada, representing the first female coach of a men's collegiate hockey team.

Following her success with the Huskies, Cindy took time off from hockey to pursue other aspects of her life such as finishing her higher education. Five years later, she received a phone call from a WWFHA parent who asked if she would again help support the girls in the local area by coaching for WWFHA. She decided to accept the offer to give the girls opportunities that she didn't have when she was young. Cindy appreciated that WWFHA put female players first in everything they did, which is something she had never before seen in a Seattle youth hockey program.  As she integrated into WWFHA, her love and excitement for the game returned.  She felt that the possibilities were endless because WWFHA’s mission was to provide girls with a quality place to develop at every level. 

For Cindy, coaching is more than just a job. It’s an opportunity to help girls grow and achieve their goals. Players like Alexis ‘Ali’ Myers (age 25 from Sammamish, WA who played as a senior in high school on the Washington Wild with Cindy as the head coach) look back on Cindy's WWFHA coaching with the fondest admiration. Ali played NCAA D3 hockey for Plymouth State University. She served as the captain of her team and became the first female ice hockey player to be inducted into the University’s Hall of Fame. These accomplishments would not have been possible without her 2010 season with Cindy.

"I've had dozens of coaches throughout my years of playing sports and none of them compare to Cindy. She's kind, compassionate and knows her game well. Her character and demeanor is unprecedented. She has a way of instantly connecting with players and seeing their potential. I think it’s because she's played the game and has been on the other side of it, she just gets it and you trust her. I've played for the coaches that are the 'clipboard smasher', the 'screamer', and the 'superstitious one' but not Cindy. I would describe her as the 'mentor'. She would come into the locker room and always know the right thing to say and be brutally honest and teach us how to face adversity and be strong on and off the ice. Her belief in me and our team is something I carry with me every day. I can't thank her enough for her kindness, relentless compassion for her players and her efforts securing the future of women's hockey."

One of Ali's favorite memories with Cindy was their first East Coast tournament – the prestigious Connecticut Polar Bears tournament that attracted a lot of college scouts. They were a small team walking into the arena without a national reputation, overshadowed by the large East Coast teams with custom bags, sticks and jerseys. They knew they didn't have much as the other teams, but they had each other. Cindy taught them if they stuck together as family they could get through anything. She always reminded them of their talents and how they deserved to be there.  She assured them that if they wanted to win this entire tournament they could….and they did in amazing fashion; double overtime to a shoot-out win.

"I'll never forget the smiles on my teammate’s faces, looking up at all the parents hugging and jumping up and down, and seeing the look on Cindy's face- her cheeks always got super rosy red from the cold. She stepped out onto the ice with us and hugged each of us after that game. I'll never forget her grabbing my face mask and shouting 'YOU DID IT, I KNEW YOU GUYS COULD!'"

With tears in her eyes, Cindy accepts the Lifetime Achievement Award from WWFHA, presented by her former player Ali Myers.  She stands with WWFHA in their mission to empower players so that they may reach their goals and dreams on and off the ice. She mentors the players just as her parents, skating coach and long-time youth line-mate Jenny Barth mentored her and helped her over the years grow as a player and a person. Her contributions as a coach, a board member, and coaching director have helped make a name for girls’ ice hockey in Seattle, and she feels proud of her work and honored to be a part of this organization, this family—a community that will surround these female student-athletes and encourage them.  Players, coaches, parents, mentors, alumnae and many volunteers unite to make something special of this association. They are all bonded by their love of the game and their vision to make WWFHA a positive place for girls to learn and grow in the sport of ice hockey.

Cindy feels excited, just as she did the first day of the girls’ learn to play class. Seeing the result of her blood, sweat and tears, and the effort of so many others as these young girls gear up for the first time, step on the ice, and score that initial goal. Beaming smiles, cheering teammates, and proud parents are what she strives for in the sport. She helps them build confidence, take risks on the ice so that they can have the confidence and be adventurous off the ice.  Adversity will always be there, the pressure still rises, and critics persist, but Cindy continues to fight for the female players who deserve the opportunity to play the sport they love.

Angela Brastad is a freelance writing who has been playing women’s hockey for 10 years. She hails from Snohomish, WA