History Spotlight: Helen Nicol
Article: FANTASTIC MRS. FOX
Blink and you’ll miss Ardley, Alberta. You would never guess this tiny Red Deer County community of just 16 (according to the last census) is home to one of Alberta’s greatest baseball exports. And she is no stranger to Hall of Fame status.
Born May 9, 1920, Helen Nicol (later Helen Fox) had one of the most storied careers in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The accolades, though, expand beyond the baseball world. Before she fired pitches for the Kenosha Comets and Rockford Peaches, Nicol was known as a multisport athlete, adding hockey, speedskating, golf and softball to her baseball repertoire.
It was that athletic prowess that got her noticed, and paved the way for the right-hander to move from making just a few dollars a week for the Hudson’s Bay Company, to making $85/week playing baseball in the United States.
The AAGPBL Years
The legend of Helen Nicol began right away with the Kenosha Comets. At 23, she pitched her way to an unbelievable 31-8 record in 47 games in 1943, posting a blistering 1.81 ERA. Heading into her sophomore season, the Comets had high hopes for Nicol.
“The Calgary, Canada “chucker” as Miss Nicol was tabbed, rated as the professional league’s standout star at her position with a record of 31 victories and eight defeats in the regular season, plus a pair of setbacks in the title series which was annexed by the Racine Belles,” wrote Eddie McKenna in the Kenosha Evening News on May 5, 1944.
“Her victory string, an unmatched mark that is likely to stand for several seasons, was entered in the U.S. sports annals as one of the oustanding feats of 1943,” McKenna continued. “She was presented an exquisite trophy by the Kenosha Eagles’ club in recognition of her league achievements while the American Legion also staged a special night in her behalf at which she was given a fitted traveling bag of handsome quality and design of her own selection.”
Nicol’s win-loss record that season might have fallen to 17-11, but her ERA was cut in half, to an unheard of 0.93. According to the AAGPBL record book, she won the league pitching title both seasons. Nicol followed that up with a 24-19 record in 1945, posting a 1.34 ERA. She also married that year, taking the surname Fox.
“The brand of ball we played was pretty high class,” Fox told the East Valley Tribune in 2011, ahead of a reunion which she wasn’t able to attend. “A lot of fans came to our games. The women never played against the men – that was a no-no. We were built differently than the men, and that would not have been good.”
The 1947 season was a year of transition for pitchers in the league. Fox usually pitched underhand, but that year the league changed the rules so that pitchers had to toss sidearm. The bases and the mound were also pushed back. But she adjusted.
Fox also joined the Rockford Peaches that year, and while she wasn’t putting up the same kinds of numbers she did in her first three seasons, she would help the Peaches win the AAGPBL title in three-straight seasons (1948-1950). She was credited with four of the ten playoff wins in 1948, including two in the finals. In the 1950 finals, she would flourish again, getting credit for three of the team’s four victories, including a shutout in the seventh and deciding game.
In 1951, Fox continued to dominate, going 18-7 with a 2.57 ERA and 23 complete games, while she went 8-7 with a 2.80 ERA in her final season. In her career (1943-1952), she never had an ERA over 2.80. She eclipsed the 200 strikeout plateau twice (1943 and 1945) and posted more than 13 wins in all but two seasons (1947 and 1952).
A total of 64 Canadians donned the colours of All-American Girls Professional Baseball League teams, including several Albertans like Betty Dunn (Carveth), who was inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in the summer 2017. Nicol was given that honour in 1996. The league was also inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1988.
That induction created a new level of interest in the AAGPBL. In 1992, A League Of Their Own came out in movie theatres to rave reviews.
Nicol and the Canadian contingent gained induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998. Before that, Nicol was part of the Army and Navy Pats organization that was inducted into the Softball Alberta Hall of Fame in 1987.p
“I enjoyed playing very much, and I enjoyed meeting the people,” Fox said in the East Valley Tribune article. “A lot of people said, ‘I bet you had fun.’ We did, but it was a job. We took the game seriously.”
And while Helen Nicol (Fox) made her mark on the baseball world and put Ardley, Alberta on the map, the same couldn’t be said for the community. Despite having a grain elevator, bowling alley, hotel and more during its hey-day, Ardley is considered a ghost town now.
Ask A Curator Day
Breanna Suk, the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Museum's Collections and Exhibit Coordinator, is taking over the @ASHFM1 twitter account tomorrow for #Askacurator Day.
With over 5 years experience, she is excited to answer any of your questions regarding her role at the ASHFM or things you may want to know about the items in the collection.
What is Ask A Curator Day?
It's an opportunity to ask curators and collections management experts from around the world what it's like to do their job, what's in their collection and general things about the museum industry.
September 13, 2017 There are over 1500 museums taking part in this online Q&A!
Please remember to use the hashtag #AskACurator to be part of the action!
Honoured Member Jenn Heil joins ViaSport BC
Jennifer Heil, Olympic gold and silver medalist in Freestyle Mogul skiing joins viaSport as V.P. of Sport Development. As a life-long sport veteran, Heil understands first-hand how the importance of sport and physical activity reaches far beyond the playing field – that it is a building block for an individual’s overall well-being and success.
“I’m thrilled to join viaSport to help more British Columbians experience the health and social benefits that come from quality sporting and physical activity experiences,” says Heil. “I look forward to helping build a future where all British Columbians can access quality sport and physical activity, contributing to their individual success as well as the vibrancy of our communities.”
The combination of Heil’s experience as a high performance athlete, as well as her work in the private and not-for-profit sectors as part of the Deloitte Innovation consulting team and as co-founder of the not-for-profit B2ten, uniquely positions her to help lead positive changes to B.C.’s sport development and delivery system.
viaSport, a not-for-profit legacy organization of the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, believes all British Columbians deserve equitable opportunities to develop and realize their potential through sport – as an athlete, coach, official, or volunteer. To increase sport participation opportunities, viaSport unites leaders across sectors to champion change and continuously enhance our world class sport system.
“We are very proud of the opportunities British Columbian’s have to participate in quality sport experiences, at all stages, ages and abilities. However, there is a tremendous desire across the sport and physical activity sectors to lead changes that result in a greater impact for more British Columbians. We are excited to leverage Jenn’s expertise and experience to help continue our work to strengthen B.C.’s sport system so that more people can thrive via sport and physical activity,” confirms Sheila Bouman, viaSport CEO.
Wickenheiser backs development of video games to treat concussions
Article from Red Deer Advocate written by The Canadian Press: Wickenheiser backs development of video games to treat concussions
Hayley Wickenheiser’s reasons for helping develop video game technology to treat concussions are close to her heart.
The four-time Olympic gold medallist in women’s hockey remembers the dizziness and nausea she felt after taking a hit in a Swedish men’s pro league in 2008.
Wickenheiser also witnessed the deterioration of friend and former NHL player Steve Montador, who was diagnosed after his death in 2015 with chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
CTE is a degenerative brain condition that doctors believe is caused by concussions.
Wickenheiser co-chairs the advisory board of Highmark Interactive, a Toronto digital therapeutics company developing video games to diagnose and treat concussion and brain injuries.
She’s joined on the board by former New Jersey Devils captain Bryce Salvador, snowboarder Mark McMorris and Pittsburgh Penguins director of sport science Andy O’Brien.
“Everyone involved with this project had a bit of a connection to head trauma in some way shape or form,” Wickenheiser said in an interview. “Losing Steve Montador who was one of my best friends to … he obviously had CTE which we found out after he passed away. Watching him degrade as a person over the years, I think looking back after he passed away, I felt ‘Is there something I can do to honour Steve that will be to continue down this road and help other people?’”
Highmark is 12 to 18 months away from going to market with the games, according to founder Dr. Sanjeev Sharma.
“Our fundamental thesis is between neuroplasticity, where the brain does heal itself, and the proper utilization of gaming and the stimulus that gaming provides the brain, we believe we can build a game that will eventually enable the concussed individual to heal faster, quicker, better,” Sharma explained. “We don’t look to replace physicians or clinicians. We’re looking to give them tools to augment diagnostic capabilities.”
The traditional remedy for a concussion has been to eliminate physical activity and limit sensory stimuli until the brain is healed. New research suggests some physical activity helps recovery.
Playing a video game with a brain injury may seem counterintuitive given sensitivity to light and screens, but Sharma believes games could retrain and thus restore the concussed brain.
“The hope would be, eventually, we would have a game that, depending on symptoms, patients could play and it would help raise their threshold for what they can do on a computer screen before they have symptoms,” he said. “Slowly and gradually we’d raise that threshold to bring it back to normal.
“You use games that aren’t as intrusive or games where you have different speeds at which things are moving and things are flashing. What you’re doing is you’re really slowly building up their tolerance where all of a sudden computer screens don’t cause a problem because they’ve been using gaming to get better.”
In practical terms, instead of sitting in a dark room between physiotherapy and rehabilitation appointments, Wickenheiser believes the ability to augment and chart recovery doing something fun at home could accelerate return to play or work.
“I’ve had teammates who have had to literally go home and sit in the dark. I was through that once myself for a short time,” she said. “One of the things that happens when you have a head injury, you often don’t know how much better you’re getting and there’s a feeling of hopelessness and fear that comes with that.
“If you’re tracking yourself on a day-to-day basis and seeing improvement or know you’re helping yourself improve, I think it also helps with the recovery because the stress level goes down.”
The 39-year-old from Shaunavon, Sask., retired as Canada’s all-time leading scorer in January.
The women’s team congregated in Calgary this week to start full-time preparation for the upcoming Winter Olympics. Wickenheiser did that five times in her career en route to four gold.
“I’ll say it’s definitely a little strange for sure because you’re used to the routine,” she said. “I’m so busy with other stuff right now, I’m filling the gap.”
Wickenheiser will join San Jose Sharks centre Logan Couture and former NHL player Eric Lindros at Western University in London, Ont., on Wednesday to speak at and promote the school’s concussion treatment and awareness program.
She’s fighting the concussion battle on multiple fronts.
“I’m a big believer that academia alone isn’t going to get this done,” she said. “I think we need the private sector.
“There’s just so much more we can develop and I think we can make people aware of.”
Filmmaker Grant - Sport Theme
TIFF + ESPN Emerging Filmmaker Grant
- REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS -
Submission Deadline: Monday October 30, 2017 at 5pm
For over four decades, TIFF has been committed to transforming the way people see the world, through film. ESPN Films has been an industry leader in documentary filmmaking since its inception in March 2008, producing more than 100 documentaries that have showcased some of the most compelling stories in sports.
Central to these two organizations is a shared commitment to provide filmmakers and content creators with resources and mentorship to support their storytelling. In an effort to foster the next generation of filmmakers, TIFF and ESPN Films are honoured to partner together to present the TIFF + ESPN Emerging Filmmaker Grant (“the Grant”), which will provide support to an emerging film and media creator 30 years of age or under who is pursuing, or will undertake, the creation of a short-form documentary film that considers issues of social and cultural importance through the lens of sport and/or athletics. Through financial support and mentorship opportunities, the Grant will encourage and catalyze an emerging filmmaker towards the realization of their project.
ESPN and TIFF believe in the power of film and media to advocate for social change – to this end, we actively seek project proposals that highlight athletic groups, organizations, and participants using sport and athletics to create impact in their communities. The successful recipient will be awarded $25,000 CAD to use towards the development, production or post-production of their film. The recipient will also receive professional consultation and project notes from industry professionals identified by ESPN and TIFF, networking assistance, access to TIFF Film Reference Library resources and a student pass to the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival Industry Conference where they will be exposed to industry professionals.
The TIFF + ESPN Emerging Filmmaker Grant is generously supported by ESPN.
On August 10, TIFF will present a three-hour Film Treatment Workshop in Toronto for TIFF + ESPN Emerging Filmmaker Grant applicants to workshop their applications with film industry professionals. Those planning to submit an application to the Grant are encouraged to attend. For more information on the Film Treatment Workshop, including the next steps to register, please email . Space at the workshop is limited. Please send an email expressing interest by August 3, 2017.
FOR MORE INFORMATIONFor additional information regarding the TIFF + ESPN Emerging Filmmaker Grant, including eligibility, application deadline and components, please visit the website. Please direct any questions about the Grant or Film Treatment Workshop to .
2017 Spring Artefacts Newsletter
Catch up on what's new with the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in the Artefacts Newsletter!