NORTH SMITHFIELD — Talk about a royal surprise -- and a well-deserved honor.
Former North Smithfield High girls’ coach Bill Nangle was asked to come to the R.I. Girls’ Hockey Coaches Association’s annual banquet at Wright’s Farm on Thursday night thinking he was going to help present a new project for the varsity sport he helped start and eventually coached for a full decade with the Northmen.
Instead, Nangle, who retired from coaching after the 2011-12 season, received a prestigious honor by the RIGHCA, which implemented the ‘Coach William "Bill" Nangle Award’ that every season, will be presented to one player from each of the state’s high school girls’ teams that shares the same leadership and sportsmanship qualities that Nangle demonstrated during his tenure with the Green & Gold.
“I’m truly honored,” Nangle said a day after receiving the honor. “To just look around that room and see all those kids that not only have played hockey for much of their lives, but played hockey because they knew that once they got to high school, there would be a program there for them, that, to me, is the greatest reward. I got involved with this to help all those involved put a program together to allow girls to have access to the greatest game on this earth, and that feels really good.”
When Nangle left his house on Thursday night, he didn’t have an inkling that he was going to be honored by the RIGHCA, and former Burrillville head coach Gary Rouleau and Nangle’s family did a truly masterful job putting up poker faces and keeping the secret from him.
“I was asked to come to the banquet because I thought (the RIGHCA) was working on a new project for girls’ hockey,” recalled Nangle. “They asked if I could give them a hand with it and we were going to tell everyone about it at the banquet. So I said, ‘Sure, I’d love to come and help out.’
“I didn’t even notice that there were two tables there that said ‘Team Nangle’ on them,” Nangle continued with a small chuckle. “I asked Gary if I could sit with the Smithfield/North Smithfield girls and he said, ‘No, you can’t sit there. Sit at the head table.’ I said, ‘No, I’m not sitting at the head table. I’ll sit with the team.’ He then said, “You know what? Why don’t you just sit with your family?’ I said, ‘My family’s not here, Gary.’ He said, ‘Well, turn around,’ and when I turned around, my whole family was there waving at me.
“I was shocked. My whole family knew about it. My parents knew about it. All my brothers and sisters were there. My nieces and nephews, friends of the family. There had to be 50 people there that were family and friends and I knew nothing about it.”
Would Nangle have showed up at the banquet if he knew anything about the honor?
“I don't know if I would have,” he confessed. “I probably would have talked Gary out of it because my feeling is things like (the banquet) should be all about the kids. We don't do this for recognition. We do this because we’re giving back to the sport we love.”
More than a decade ago, Nangle was instrumental in helping put a package together to present to the RIIL that became the eventual start of girls’ hockey, which began as a five-team league in the 2002-03 season. Nangle coached North Smithfield, Rouleau headed Burrillville, and Mount St. Charles and the Lincoln School/Providence Country Day and Bay View/Bishop Keough co-op teams rounded out the league.
Nangle eventually ran the Northmen’s team for the next 10 seasons before retiring, and during his tenure, the Northmen reached the Division II finals four times and won the championship in 2008.
Prior to his involved with high school hockey, Nangle also started the R.I. Wolves hockey program that allowed girls from all over the state to learn how to skate and play the game of hockey with a no-pressure approach. Thirteen years ago, Nangle’s 10-year-old daughter, Ali, wanted to learn how to play hockey, and seeing how there were no instructional leagues for girls, he helped form one, and many of the girls in that program were able to sharpen their skills before they started high school.
The four local winners of the ‘Coach William "Bill" Nangle Award’ were North Smithfield’s Samantha Archambault, Burrillville’s Laura Hauser, Lincoln’s Jean Bray, and Mount St. Charles’ Arianna Tourtellot.