From Hilltoppers to Huskies: 50 Years of Women's Athletics at USM

The Huskies' Department of Athletics will host a Celebration of 50 Years of Women's Athletics at USM on Saturday, February 4 (6:00 p.m.) | The October Release of key figures in USM women's athletics features legendary coach and administrator Paula Hodgdon and long-time veteran coach and alumnae Bonny Brown-Denico.
The Huskies' Department of Athletics will host a Celebration of 50 Years of Women's Athletics at USM on Saturday, February 4 (6:00 p.m.) | The October Release of key figures in USM women's athletics features legendary coach and administrator Paula Hodgdon and long-time veteran coach and alumnae Bonny Brown-Denico.

October Edition: From Huskies to Hilltoppers Presented by UCU

With a longstanding tradition of women's athletics, some of the earliest incarnations of the University of Southern Maine supported women in sport. Starting with interclass basketball in 1918 and culminating with the official creation of women's intercollegiate athletics in 1967, for 50 years, USM, and its predecessor schools, have supported women's participation in athletics.

In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Women's Intercollegiate Athletics, the Huskies' Department of Athletics will highlight some of its top student-athletes, coaches and administrators, past and present.  In addition to the varied profiles, the USM Department of Athletics will host a celebration of its 50 Years of Women's Intercollegiate Athletics on Saturday, February 4 to coincide with the women's basketball and ice hockey games at the Costello Sports Complex.  Following the games, USM will host a special event at Spire 29 in Gorham (6:00 p.m.).

PAULA HODGDON: Coach, Administrator, and Professor

  Years before the passage of Title IX, Paula Hodgdon humbly set about her work and pioneered the women's intercollegiate athletic programs at the University of Southern Maine.  Her vision and her commitment to providing opportunities for women to participate in athletics were done with little fanfare. 

Hodgdon's leadership and work ethic have become a hallmark of Husky student-athletes, and to honor her steadfast commitment to athletics - in particular the growth of women's intercollegiate athletic teams and opportunities - the USM Department of Athletics established the Paula D. Hodgdon Leadership Award in 1994.  This award is given annually to athletes who exemplify the qualities of Hodgdon, "a woman who displays loyalty, dedication and commitment to the team." In 1998, the former USM Field Hockey field, on the USM Gorham campus, was also named in her honor. 

So much of women's athletics at USM can be traced back to the arrival of Paula Hodgdon on the Gorham campus.  Hodgdon's tenure in Gorham began serendipitously in the spring of 1965, when she was invited as the guest speaker for the University's Women's Athletic Association Banquet.  Then a girls' physical education instructor and coach at nearby Cape Elizabeth High School, Hodgdon spoke about the growing interest in women's athletics and new sporting opportunities for women and girls throughout the country, and in the State of Maine. 

After a spirited discussion, Hodgdon became an Associate Professor of Physical Education at Gorham State College in the fall of 1967.  Hodgdon's arrival, along with support from President Kenneth Brooks and then Athletic Director Dr. Richard Costello, led to the creation of three varsity women's sports: field hockey, basketball and volleyball.  And ever since then, Paula Hodgdon has helped shape and create the long-standing tradition of Huskies' athletics, and in particular women's athletics.

Over her 31-year career, Hodgdon helped establish and coach the women's basketball (1968-70), field hockey (1967-97), women's skiing (1969-70) and women's lacrosse (1972-79) teams, dedicating her 31 years at USM to advancing the lives of young women through athletics participation.  As the Huskies' field hockey coach, Paula Hodgdon helped lead the first USM team, men's or women's, to an NCAA Division III Final Four in 1987 while coaching numerous all-conference, all-region and All-American student-athletes. 

And in her retirement, Hodgdon is still actively supporting USM athletics as a member of the Husky Hall of Fame, and serving on the Gender Equity committee.  And while her coaching career ended in 1997, Hodgdon can often be found on the sidelines or in the stands of many Husky sporting events, and volunteering to be a part of various special event committees in support of many of the student-athletes whose opportunities she helped shape.

A Hall of Fame coach, inducted into both the Husky Hall of Fame and the National Field Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Hodgdon's legacy and reach go far beyond her achievements on the field.  The opportunities she spearheaded for women's athletics at USM have not only provided Huskies' with memorable performances in competition, but in the community at-large. 

Hodgdon's leadership, vision and dedication to USM helped pave the way for generations of women with the opportunity to don a Huskies' uniform.

 

Bonny Brown Denico:  Two-sport athlete, two-sport coach.

A 1991 graduate of the University of Southern Maine, Bonny Brown-Denico was a two-sport star for the Huskies' field hockey and softball teams in the late 80s and early 90s.  During her playing career, Brown-Denico earned her bachelor's degree in English with honors, and then went on to earn her Master's degree in Adult Education in 1998. 

As a member of the Huskies' field hockey team, Brown-Denico played under legendary coach Paula Hodgdon, earning National Field Hockey Coaches Association All-America honors in 1990 and All-Region honors in 1989.  As a member of the Huskies' field hockey team from 1987-1990, Brown-Denico helped lead the squad to the 1987 Final Four and a record of 49-15-9. USM reached post-season play in each of her four seasons, including berths to the NCAA National Championship tournament three out of the four, culminating in an outstanding season record of 15-2-1 during her senior year. 

As a member of the softball team, Brown-Denico was a three-time All-Region outfielder (1989, 1990 and 1991), and was named the Maine State Player of the Year in 1991. Brown-Denico is still in the top 10 for runs (83), batting average (.398), hits (144), triples (10), runs batted in (89) and stolen bases (32). 

Brown-Denico's impact on the field is evident from her numerous awards and her statistical achievements.  However, her impact on USM Athletics extends far beyond the championships and awards as her two-sport achievements during her playing days transferred to a successful career as the head coach of both sports following her graduation. 

Brown-Denico first started her intercollegiate head coaching career at the helm of the Huskies' softball team, a position she took over in 1996, and then in 1997 Brown-Denico became the second head coach of the Huskies' field hockey team replacing her former coach and USM legend Paula Hodgdon.  Brown-Denico's achievements on the sidelines of two intercollegiate sports are just as impressive as during her playing career. Recognized by her peers in both sports with Little East Conference Coach of the Year honors on multiple occasions. In 2007, Brown-Denico was named the LEC Coach of the Year in both field hockey and softball.  She has led the Huskies' to their only Little East Conference championships winning the 2003 field hockey crown and advancing to the NCAA Division III Sweet Sixteen and capturing the 1998 Little East Conference softball trophy. 

Along the way, Brown-Denico has fostered a culture of achievement for her student-athletes, who have garnered numerous accolades for their physical feats as well as their leadership and academic achievements.  Brown-Denico's field hockey teams routinely place several members on the National Field Hockey Coaches' Association National Academic Squad, and most recently junior Lindsay Jackson  - a Nursing major – was named an NFHCA Athletic of Distinction.  She has mentored two NFHCA All-Americans, 13 NFHCA All-Region student-athletes, and more than 40 All-LEC selections, including her own niece Peyton Dostie (Standish, Maine/Bonny Eagle), who finished her career as the two-time Little East Conference Offensive Player of the Year and a two-time first time All-Region selection.

Before relinquishing her position as the Huskies' softball coach, Brown-Denico coached USM only All-American, Julie Plante – a two-sport star in her own right (basketball and softball), and numerous All-Region athletes and All-Little East Conference players.  Over her career as coach for both teams, seven of her former players have earned the prestigious Paula D. Hodgdon Leadership Award. 

Brown Denico is now in her 19th season as head coach of the field hockey program, and she devoted 17 seasons as the softball coach.  She has hundreds of wins, but more importantly hundreds of former players who have gone on from their time in a Husky uniform to outstanding careers in education, mathematics, nursing and business.
 

Renee Heath Towne: Two-Sport Standout (Field Hockey & Softball)

One of the many players to play for Coach Brown-Denico, Heath Towne excelled in both of the same sports as her former coach: field hockey and softball.  Heath Towne distinguished her self in both sports during her playing career, earning numerous conference and regional awards.  As a member of the softball team, Heath Towne served as the team's captain in 2003 and 2004, helping the Huskies to a record of 108-56-2, and finished in the top seven of 11 career statistical categories.  A four-time All-LEC selection, Heath Towne earned National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) All-Region accolades in three consecutive seasons (2002-2004), and All-NEISA honors (2002-2004).

In field hockey, Heath Towne was the Huskies' offensive catalyst, and had previously set the school's record for assists in a career.  She is still in the top six for several statistical categories, games played (4th, 89 games), points (5th, 91 points), goals (6th, 34 goals scored), and assists (3rd, 23 assists).  One of the top field hockey players in the New England region, Heath Towne earned National Field Hockey Coaches Association All-Region and All-Little East Conference honors all four seasons, culminating in an outstanding senior season in which she led Southern Maine to its only Little East Conference Championship in field hockey.  During the season, Heath Towne helped USM to a 17-6 record, the program's first LEC championship, and an automatic berth to the NCAA Division III National Championship tournament, advancing all the way to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. 

Inducted into the Husky Hall of Fame in 2010 as part of the 25th Anniversary celebration, Heath Towne became just the fourth University of Southern Maine woman inducted into the Little East Conference Hall of Fame this October, joining former USM standouts Ashley Marble (basketball), Joanna Brown (basketball, softball) and Julie Plante (basketball, softball). 

Heath Towne's connection to her former team and the sports she loves has continued in her post-graduate years, volunteering as an assistant coach for the Huskies' field hockey program the last two seasons.  Heath Towne earned a pair of bachelor's degrees from USM, earning her degree in exercise science in 2003 before returning for her degree in nursing in 2010.  A registered nurse at Maine Medical Center, Heath Towne has medically volunteered in the Dominican Republic, and now applies her competitive nature on the sidelines at USM and in the sport of triathlon, in which she is a two-time Ironman finisher.

Samantha Peters: Civil Rights Activism (Women's Soccer)

A four-year member of the Huskies' women's soccer team, Samantha Peters, Sampy, does not have a long list of accolades attached to her playing career on the pitch in Gorham.  A defensive back for Southern Maine from 2007-2010, Peters played a steady four-years for the Huskies, playing in 59 games and making 40 starts.  By her junior year (2009), Peters positioned herself as a regular starter, and during her senior season (2010), Peters earned the first two points of her intercollegiate career with a pair of assists. 

Peters' humble work ethic and leadership has led to an outstanding career in law, including a healthy portion of pro bono and volunteer work advocating for and advancing women's civil rights. Humble in lieu of her generous work and outstanding young career, when asked to describe her life post-USM, Peters ended her email "Sorry I don't have too much for you!"

After graduation from USM, Peters went onto The George Washington University Law School earning her Juris Doctorate in 2014.  During her time in law school, Peters volunteered with a variety of organizations, that provided pro bono legal work and education to the surrounding communities.  As a member of the organization Street Law, Peters taught students in the area about their legal rights and educated them about the Constitution. 

Peters focus in women's legal issues grew during this time, serving on the board of the Law Association for Women, which seeks to increase awareness of issues affecting women, and she was published in the American Bar Association's journal, authoring an article on how to increase low income women's access to healthcare. 

Since being sworn into the bar of Maryland in 2014, Peters has been hired as a trial lawyer by the Cochran Firm in Washington, DC, and is part of a growing women's rights practice in the firm.  She works as an advocate for women who have been the victims of sexual assault, discrimination, including helping women of lower socio-economic backgrounds receive justice in medical malpractice cases.  Peters also remains quite active in volunteerism, providing pro bono legal work to a variety of non-profits seeking to advance women's civil rights, with an emphasis on women's health care access.

 

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