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Wisconsin women's hockey: Brittany Ammerman wins Hockey Humanitarian Award

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Wisconsin's Brittany Ammerman was awarded for her work with the Nikumbuke Soccer League. Ammerman is the second Wisconsin hockey player to win the award.

Brittany Ammerman accepts the 2015 Hockey Humanitarian Award.
Brittany Ammerman accepts the 2015 Hockey Humanitarian Award.
Matt Dewkett

Wisconsin redshirt senior Brittany Ammerman was awarded the Hockey Humanitarian Award (HHA) Friday at the men’s Frozen Four for her work creating a soccer league for women in rural Kenya.

The HHA is given to one collegiate hockey player who displays "personal character, scholarship, and the giving of oneself off the ice to the larger community as well. The Hockey Humanitarian Award is presented annually to college hockey’s finest citizen – a student-athlete who makes significant contributions not only to his or her team but also to the community-at-large through leadership in volunteerism."

Wisconsin has had one other winner - Erik Raygor won the award in 1998, its second year in existence.

The Wisconsin women’s hockey team played in the Women’s Frozen Four semi-final game at the end of March. A week later, Ammerman was spending her spring break in Kenya to deliver the uniforms and once again work with the women whose lives she’s working to change.

Ammerman first traveled to Kenya through a UW women’s health initiative called Health by Motorbike. A partnership with the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, the UW Morgridge Center for Public Service, and the UW Center for Gender and Women’s Studies, the program takes students to Kenya to teach the women in rural areas about women’s biology and health and help provide the means for women to continue to serve themselves and their communities.

Ammerman, along with other UW students and the program chair, Dr. Araceli Alonso, provided basic health care and health education to women in rural Kenya.

While Ammerman was in Kenya, she purchased a soccer ball, intending it to be a way to interact in the villages she was staying in and help pass downtime. She expected it would be popular among the children, but to her surprise, it was the older women in the tribe who were most excited to play. While HbM was serving the very necessary physical health needs of the community, it turned out that soccer provided a much-needed mental health outlet for them as well.

After the students left last year, Alonso stayed with the tribes they’d worked with to find out what other ways Health by Motorbike could serve them. She expected to receive requests for more health care or education. Instead, the women asked for a soccer team. Since Ammerman was the reason they tribes even thought this might be possible, Araceli contacted Ammerman and the project has grown from there.

Ammerman did online crowd-funding to provide jerseys for two teams, who played the first game of the Nikumbuke Soccer League in June 2014. The tribes were energized by the game and more asked Ammerman for help starting teams. With a much bigger task ahead of her, Ammerman looked to find sponsors and partners for her endeavor. She found an advocate and friend in former women’s national soccer team player Julie Foudy.

With Foudy’s help, Ammerman raised more than $20,000 which provided full uniforms, including cleats, shin guards and bag and ball, for the teams as well as help clean up fields and put up goals.

Ammerman was a Patty Kazmaier top-10 finalist in 2014. She missed the 2012-2013 season after suffering from such adverse conditions from a concussion that she didn’t know if she’d ever skate again.

In 2015, she has balanced her senior year as a biology/pre-med and women’s studies major with playing for a national semi-finalist hockey team, working in a research lab and shadowing a surgeon.

Eventually Ammerman will go to medical school, but she is also contemplating a gap-year after her undergraduate graduation where she can spend time in Kenya and continue to work with the women she’s already helped so much.

Wisconsin men’s hockey player Joel Rumpel was nominated for the HHA this year. Andrew Joudrey was a finalist in 2007 and Dan Boeser was a finalist in 2004. Ammerman is the first Wisconsin women’s hockey player to be nominated for the award.