Sunday, July 27, 2008

Abby Hoffman

In 1956, a 9 year old defenseman named Ab Hoffman made headlines across North America.

Ab was actually Abigail, better known as Abby, a girl who dearly loved sports and the game of hockey. Girls were not allowed to play on boys teams way back then. Though women's hockey dates back nearly as long as hockey itself, Hoffman had no other opportunities to play.

Abby had managed to disguise her sex through the season by dressing in her equipment at home, and by wearing her hair in a boyish fashion. She played really well, too, even earning all star status.

Her cover was blown when the team's season came to an end. The team was entering a season ending tournament which required her to produce her birth certificate, clearly displaying her gender.

The hockey league proceeded to ban Abby from playing. Determined to play, Abby and her family took the issue to the Ontario Supreme Court, but the courts ruled in favour of the league.

Her battle caught the attention of media across North America, including Time and Newsweek, and established the spotlight to give young girls the opportunity to play hockey. She may not have realized it at the time, but her battle helped her become one of the most influential women in hockey and Canadian sport.

At the age of 15 Hoffman told her story to CBC radio. Library and Archives Canada also has this great story.

Unable to play hockey, the undeterred Abby went on to a distinguished career in track and field, competing in 4 Olympic games, 4 Commonwealth Games and 2 Pan-American Games. She was the Canadian flag bearer for the opening ceremonies of the 1976 Olympic games in Montreal.

In 1982 the Ontario Women's Hockey Association remembered Hoffman's struggle to play by creating the Abby Hoffman Cup - the first national women's tournament.

Today women's hockey is a highly anticipated Olympic event.

Hoffman remained dedicated to sport all her life. From 1981 to 1991, she was the first woman Director General of Sport Canada, a federal government sports agency. In 1981, she was the first Canadian female elected to the Executive Committee of the Canadian Olympic Committee.

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