Two-sport Division I athlete. Three-time Olympic medal winner. Two-time National Coach of the Year, with 11 NCAA tournament appearances and six Frozen Four appearances. And the 2022 NCAA Silver Anniversary Award winner.
Katie Crowley, now the head coach of Boston College women’s hockey, has done it all.
Crowley has excelled in sports, whether that be as a player or a coach, ever since she first picked up a stick as a young girl. Winning is in her DNA, with no plans on stopping anytime soon.
But the path wasn’t easy for Crowley, now 47. She played hockey, a male-dominated sport, growing up and all the way through college. She began her career on a boys’ team, her only option at the time.
When a girls’ team started up in her hometown of Salem, N.H., Crowley was 11, and of course, she joined the team. Her time with the boys’ team didn’t end, though, as Crowley continued to play for both, using the boys’ team as a challenge to continue to get better and stronger.
Crowley remembers how she was a target on the boys team for opposing players and even parents. Teams would try to hit her extra hard because they thought she “didn’t belong.” Parents would make snarky comments about how a girl was playing the wrong sport.
Some of Crowley’s female teammates even cut their hair shorter to fit in.
At that time in the mid ’80s, Title IX, a part of the Educational Amendments of 1972 that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or other education program that receives funding from the federal government, was only about 10 years old. Today, Title IX is much different and has paved the way for equality in sports, with this summer marking the statute’s 50th anniversary.
Title IX was constantly evolving as Crowley navigated her playing and coaching careers. One of the moments Crowley truly realized the power of Title IX was when she was playing hockey at Brown. She also played on Brown’s softball team through college.
“They wanted to make our locker room equitable to what the men’s teams were,” Crowley said. “We got to upgrade ours because of Title IX, … and it was one of the first times I understood the changes that were being made.”
Crowley also remembers the Brown gymnastics team having to go to court in order to restore its funding, with Title IX helping the team win the case and become reinstated.
After graduating from Brown, Crowley went on to play for Team USA’s women’s hockey team. The USA won gold in 1998, a moment that Crowley thinks helped the growth of women’s hockey and women’s sports as a whole.
It marked the first year women’s ice hockey was in the Olympics.
“It was huge for our country that we won that medal because it was able to kickstart a lot of younger players playing in the U.S.,” Crowley said. “It really helped push women’s hockey to become a bigger sport and a bigger entity.”
Crowley was offered an assistant coaching position at BC in 2003 by BC’s head coach Tom Babson, formerly an assistant coach of the 1998 national team that Crowley was a part of. Still wanting to continue her career on Team USA, Crowley took the position because it was only part-time, which jump-started her coaching career.
She remained an assistant coach at BC for the next four years, winning a bronze medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics—her third and final Olympic medal—in the process.
One year later, Crowley was named the head coach of BC women’s hockey.
While Crowley has done a lot of winning in the last 15 years as head coach of BC women’s hockey—she’s 354–133–52 as the Eagles’ head coach—the landscape for women’s sports has changed dramatically in that time.
Crowley said she tries to keep her players aware of the advances being made to women’s sports as they happen, whether that be with the increase in TV coverage for women’s sports, new name, image, and likeness laws, new professional leagues, or Title IX.
“It’s important for them to understand,” Crowley said. “They’re living in it. We try to bring up some of that stuff, especially when it relates to playing professionally after college.”
There are currently two professional women’s hockey leagues, the Premier Hockey Federation and the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association. The duality of the leagues often creates tough decisions for Crowley’s players. It also displays how women’s sports are still behind, a disparity that Crowley makes sure to point out to her team.
“The women’s hockey world hasn’t ironed out one professional hockey league that can be sustainable yet,” she said. “It’s challenging having both of those situations where players don’t know which way to go. Ideally, there would be one big league where we could all find a way to get along and play in the best league for women’s hockey in the world.”
Andie Anastos, a former BC women’s hockey player and current assistant coach under Crowley, said she thinks Crowley has helped make many players’ lives easier, especially when deciding their future, partly because of Crowley’s experience and dominance in the sport.
“It was huge for her to stay in the sport and continue coaching, being able to understand and relate to players that it’s not always easy, that it’s hard to fight for having a little bit more respect,” Anastos said. “But she did that as a player, and now as a coach, which was a huge step for everyone else to see.”
Crowley has shown student-athletes what it takes to be successful and fight for equality, and Anastos said she thinks that is because Crowley has “always been really good at just being there.”
“And that’s what we need for women’s hockey right now—to try and build up the sport even more,” Anastos said.
Crowley said she hopes that she portrays the benefits and challenges of pursuing women’s sports adequately to her team while creating a message that women deserve a place in the conversation.
“We didn’t have scholarships when I went to school for sports,” Crowley said. “Now, for these women, there are scholarships for them to go play hockey, and I think our players do a great job of not taking that for granted. And you want to continue to be thankful for that but you also want to push the envelope and continue to help all women’s sports improve and get better.”
Not only does Crowley see improvements in equality through her players at the college level, but she also sees them through her nine-year-old daughter.
“There’s definitely more girls playing at younger levels, whether it’s in town or on club teams, whether it’s soccer or hockey or softball,” Crowley said. “It’s the biggest thing that I’ve recognized.”
The most important thing for young girls who are aspiring to be college athletes, Crowley said, is to make sure you love what you are doing because it’s a lot of time and a lot of hard work. And with more and more girls playing sports at such a young age, Crowley said she believes that loving what you do is more important than ever.
“I say that to my daughter all the time: You want to make sure you love every second of it and that you’re having fun doing it,” Crowley said. “Those two things will help you become a better player.”
Crowley’s most recent accomplishment comes in the form of a 2022 NCAA Silver Anniversary Award, which recognizes distinguished individuals on the 25th anniversary of the conclusion of their college athletics careers.
“I’m humbled and truly honored,” Crowley said. “But my coaches and teammates deserve a lot of the credit. I didn’t play one individual sport, and my teammates were the ones who helped me along the way.”
While Crowley is thankful to be in the company of the five other athletes that were honored with the award, she said she understands that she wouldn’t even be in that position if it weren’t for all the progress that has been made in women’s sports in the past 50 years.
“The growth in women’s sports has been awesome to see,” she said. “It all goes back to Title IX, to Billie Jean King and those that came before who set such great examples of what women could do in the sports world.”