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The writing of OFFSIDE - A Memoir - Challenges Faced by Women in Hockey was helped immeasurably by the fact that its subject, Rhonda Leeman Taylor, kept volumes of paperwork from her pioneering days as a mover and shaker in hockey.
Leeman Taylor’s contributions to women’s hockey, from organizing girls’ leagues across Ontario, working with the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association (OWHA), and as the first woman to sit on the board of directors of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA, now Hockey Canada), are undeniable, but would have been hard to quantify without the paperwork.
To work on her memoir, Leeman Taylor hired her great-niece, Denbeigh Whitmarsh, and the box of goodies became the key factor in many of the discussions. “The whole time I was doing hockey, I knew that it was groundbreaking,” said Leeman Taylor. “So I saved everything that I could, correspondence, things like that. I always wanted to write a book, but I’m not a great writer. I have the thought process, but I needed some help.”
The help was family. “She'd call and I’d go through the box of memorabilia, and she’d tell me all the information and all the stories,” recalled Whitmarsh.
The result is a self-published book, out October 5th, through Amazon, Kobo, Kindle, iBooks, or perhaps in a bookstore near you. They opted not to go with a regular publisher—there was some interest—simply because they wanted to get the book out this fall.
Currently a student at Montreal’s McGill University, studying French Literature, Whitmarsh found herself trying to grasp how different the times were, just back in the late 1970s into the 1990s.
“I kind of accepted what went on back then, because I had my goal, and I just accepted the obstacles and got my way around them or over them. But now, when I look back at it, I’m like, ?Oh my God, that wasn’t right,’” said Leeman Taylor. “Then I’m talking with Denbeigh, who’s next generation, and she’s saying, ?Oh my God, Auntie Rhonda, I can't believe that you tolerated that kind of mentality.’ It was so funny, because ... when Denbeigh was writing a couple of the chapters, you could almost see that she was pounding the keys through the keyboard out of the frustration that I probably felt at the time.”
Whitmarsh won’t exactly say that the keyboard took a beating, but will admit to being frustrated. “Looking at it in today’s mindset, some of the discrimination and challenges that she had to go through were so blatantly wrong, and yet everybody just accepted it back then. Looking at it now, it was crazy to think about how recent that really was, and how much we've come since then—but then again, so much we have to go.”
There have been other books on women’s hockey, such as Brian McFarlane’s Proud Past, Bright Future: One Hundred Years of Canadian Women’s Hockey, and On the Edge: Women Making Hockey History, by Elizabeth Etue and Megan K. Williams, as well as books on the likes of Angela Ruggiero, Hayley Wickenheiser, Angela James, and Manon Rheaume, but this an important documentation of an important person.
Rhonda Leeman Taylor
Rhonda Leeman was born in Kingston, Ontario in 1953, and followed her brothers into hockey, beginning in 1969, with the Kingston Red Barons women’s hockey team. She also played at Queen’s University, from 1973 to 1976. By 1979, she was helping to grow the women’s game, and was involved with the OWHA until 1992. Among her accomplishments was organizing the first Women’s Canadian National Hockey Tournament (the first of its kind globally), and setting up the Female Council for women’s hockey with the help of the CAHA.
But life isn’t all accomplishments, and Leeman Taylor (her married name) suffered a life-altering spinal injury playing hockey in a local women’s league in 2004. She had to sue Hockey Canada for insurance claims to support her recovery. Though suffering from chronic pain, Leeman Taylor, works in human resources, based in Newmarket, Ontario.
OFFSIDE tells the story of Leeman Taylor, but also covers some of the other names in women’s hockey, from the well-known, like Fran Rider, to the should-be-better known, like Katherine “Cookie” Cartwright, a Kingston lawyer. “She got approached by the Ministry of Culture and Recreation to actually organize and set up the OWHA,” said Leeman Taylor of Cartwright.
“Everybody thinks it was Fran who organized it, but it wasn’t Fran, it was Cookie, who really started it all,” added Whitmarsh.
“If you look at any of the history of women’s ice hockey, there’s a gap, and that gap is the gap where I was active in doing my activities,” said Leeman Taylor. “The historians in hockey are really looking forward to the book coming out.”
With the book done, Leeman Taylor and Whitmarsh are working together to spread the word, from speaking engagements, to hopefully getting the book onto sports history reading lists in universities. Leeman Taylor has arranged for the Society for Human Resource Management to have the book available as an optional reading choice when HR people are re-certifying. “We’re also talking about a women’s movement in this book,” she said.
Keyed into the current social media world, Whitmarsh works on the website, the blog and video-blog, the Facebook and Twitter pages, and she sees it all as “content to go around the book” which will “speak a little bit about the process.” The hope is that “ambassadors” who are active in women’s hockey will promote the project as well.
After all, they have not forgotten their roots. A portion of sales—$1 per physical book, 50 cents for ebooks—will go to Grindstone Award Foundation (https://grindstoneaward.com/), “a foundation that helps young girls that can’t afford to play hockey, to pay their registration or to get equipment.”
“We're giving back to the women’s hockey program,” vowed Leeman Taylor, who has never really stopped giving to women’s hockey.
For more on OFFSIDE - A Memoir - Challenges Faced by Women in Hockey and Rhonda Leeman Taylor, head to their website: https://rhondaleemantaylor.com
Denbeigh Whitmarsh and Rhonda Leeman Taylor
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