When Edniesha Curry was handed the microphone to speak Thursday night at the America East #SheRules Symposium, she waved it away.

“I’ve got the coach’s voice,” said Curry, a former WNBA player who is now an assistant coach for the University of Maine women’s basketball team.

She was right. Her voice carried through Hannaford Hall at the University of Southern Maine, reaching women of all ages in the audience. She was one of the seven female speakers who discussed the role sports played in their lives.

“We as women and young girls, we have to continue to empower each other,” Curry said. “We all have different beauty.”

Curry described herself in high school in Palmdale, California, as 4-foot-10 and 70 pounds with “big buck teeth” between which she could fit two quarters.

“Thank god for braces,” she said. “I was awkward. But when I got on the field, I was a star.”

Curry said sports allowed her to “not be a statistic” in her neighborhood – to not be “in jail” or “pregnant at 17.” She was drafted out of Oregon by the WNBA’s Charlotte Sting in 2002 and played pro basketball for eight years, including time in Europe and the Middle East, as well as for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and Los Angeles Sparks. She still calls her teammates her “hoop sisters.”

“We live in a time that’s crazy,” Curry said. “Sports unifies us. It’s the one thing that brings us all together.”

The event, organized by the Maine Sports Commission, kicked off the America East women’s basketball tournament Saturday and Sunday at the Cross Insurance Arena.

Amy Huchthausen, the America East commissioner the past six years, was the first speaker. Sports Business Journal named her a Game Changer in 2015 and a 2016 Forty Under 40 honoree.

“Just about every industry is male dominated. Certainly the world of college sports administration is male-dominated,” Huchthausen said. “I learned early on – and I learned this through sports – to have confidence.”

That’s easier said than done. Christina McAnuff, executive director of the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute, said girls from middle school to high school lose confidence at a rate 3.5 times faster than males. By the time girls reach high school, they are 25 percent less likely to raise their hands and say, “I want to take the lead.”

“Can you imagine what happens to our community or our state or our country when women stop showing up?” said McAnuff, clad in pads she wore as an All-American field hockey goalie.

McAnuff said youth with mentors are 130 percent more likely to assume leadership roles as adults, but only 1 in 3 have a mentor.

“I lacked confidence. I was an ordinary kid,” McAnuff said. “I’m an example of what’s possible when we nurture youth and girls.”

Luba Lowery’s path to success was anything but ordinary. The Paralympian was adopted from a Russian orphanage at age 4 by an American mother. By age 5 she was skiing with Maine Adaptive Sports & Recreation and by age 6, Lowery had her leg amputated to walk with a better-fitting prosthetic.

She said she was skiing and swimming before she could walk or speak English. In 2010, Lowery competed for the U.S. at the Winter Paralympics in Vancouver, and in 2015 was inducted to the Ski Museum of Maine Hall of Fame.

“For as long as I can remember, I was always trying to fit in,” said Lowery. “There were setbacks – we all have those. Being a disabled athlete, I’ve learned to look at every challenge as an opportunity.”

Jo Dill, who taught health and physical education in Biddeford and Kennebunk for 40 years, recalled playing basketball before Title IX.

When Dill was in seventh grade, one of her teachers created a girls’ basketball team. Players could only dribble three times because girls “weren’t supposed to sweat.” Dill now competes with the Maine Senior Women’s Basketball organization.

Emily Martin, a coach for a Maine Roller Derby team called the Calamity Janes, said the sport taught her to appreciate her uniqueness. “I no longer see my body as an object. I see my body as a tool to accomplish something.”

Christina Strong, the Yarmouth High girls’ coach and owner of the fitness training facility Strong Bodies, said exercising helps women learn to love themselves. “People are hard on themselves – especially women. Sports help those walls come down.”

To conclude the event, Curry had the young girls in the audience stand and say one word that described themselves, beginning with the phrase, “I am.” Short, tall, shy, not shy, weird, funny, creative, courageous, independent, confident, strong, a leader were among some of their answers.

“And I am all of you,” Curry said.

UPDATED: This story was updated on March 3 at 11:20 a.m. to include that the event was organized by the Maine Sports Commission.

Taylor Vortherms can be contacted at 791-6417 or

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