Falling In Love With Field Hockey
Jun 20, 2012
Attending the United States vs. Argentina field hockey exhibition match on Monday night brought back a flood of memories. It also triggered quite a bit of reflection on the sport I love.
I picked up my first field hockey stick when I was 13. As a naturally gifted athlete the sport came easily to me. For one the ball was bigger than a stupid golf ball and there was the "occasional" contact between myself and other players on the field, two of my requirements for a good, fun sport!
So middle school was the start of my hockey career and at that point it hadn't been about hockey but rather the friendships I formed from being involved in the sport. Joining the varsity squad in high school meant being coached by Coach Bart, Brian Bartholomew. Coach Bart was South African and was as good of a coach as one can find. After not being able to understand his accent when he yelled across the field at first, through his passion and enthusiasm for the sport, Coach Bart infused me with the sport of field hockey.
From then on I spent my weekends and vacations driving around the country with my mother to various hockey tournaments building up my "hockey resume" in hopes of landing a spot on a university team and in my dream of dreams to play for the national team. I graduated high school, left Coach Bart behind and traveled to New Zealand, South Africa and England playing and coaching hockey, not on any exception level, but just for the love of the sport.
In 2011 I continued to support field hockey in the states by refereeing local high school games as well as controlling the scoreboard and clock for UVa's team. That landed me the opportunity to support the USA team as it played Argentina late Monday at Virginia's blue turf field.
Upon arrival I was greeted by an usher who informed me that she had no more programs. She had passed out her allotted four hundred programs! And as I turned toward the stands I saw not a single empty seat. It was the fullest I had ever seen the stadium, and people still were filtering through the gates.
Many of the fans at the stadium were young girls, about the same age I had been when I fell in love with field hockey 12 years ago. I had started out as one of those girls; I traveled three hours to Virginia Beach one summer to see the USA play Australia. I took pictures with members of the USA field hockey team and dreamed that one day I would be among them. Alas I never did.
Nonetheless on Monday night as I entered the field, the USA hockey team came through the gates after me followed by a small group of hardcore fans that immediately started a "U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!" chant. Unfortunately the chant didn't take with the crowded stadium of teenage girls and their parents, generally not the type of crowd that gets rowdy. Rowdy crowds are present at English football matches or show up when rivalry teams play. This type of atmosphere was not present at Monday night's game, if ever at hockey games in the states.
In other cultures the game of field hockey is radically different. One reason bore into my mind as why the United States and the rest of the world view the sport of field hockey so differently. The exposure of the sport of field hockey in the States is greatly less then it is in any other country in the world. Why? Well when half the population within a country does not have the chance to participate in a sport will it not be as popular? True.
Yet so not true in America's case. There is an exception to the rule. Men. American football is a sport dominated by men and vastly popular across the country, yet it is only played by half the population - the male half. Baseball, rugby, cricket are all sports that both men and women play; they're all popular sports, in part perhaps, because men played it first. Field hockey, in America, on the other hand is not half as popular because men are excluded at a young age from the sport.
A recent article in The New York Times, talks about the influx of immigrated men who have formed leagues in larger cities such a New York and Washington D.C. The article entitled "Rugby it's not. But watch the Teeth." talks about field hockey as a rough and tough game similar to rugby (or football). This article was one of the first signs of field hockey exposure as a man's sport that I have seen, but not shocking was the fact that it was men from other countries, and men well into their older years. Yet, there's a USA men's field hockey team too and it has gotten into the 2012 summer Olympics this year as well. As I attempted to search for an article to relay, however, Google immediately changed my search from "USA men's field hockey Olympic team" to "USA women's field hockey Olympic team".
But do not discount men entirely; a lot of the support that surrounds field hockey in America is coming through men, granted men from other countries but countries where men are exposed to hockey as just a rough of a sport as rugby. Look at the Coaches for USA women. Lee Bodimeade is a former Australian national player, and Nick Conway has numerous achievements through field hockey in England. Field hockey is an ever-evolving sport in America, growing as quickly in popularity as it can, but it will never grow without the support of men playing the sport themselves, in my opinion. It just won't!
During Monday night's game I had the pleasure of sitting next to a nice Irish umpire, who turned out just in support of USA field hockey. (Of course!) He divulged me with tales of men's hockey. One story in particular had me laughing and cringing at the same time. A man had been hit so hard with a shot to his "special area" that he was knocked unconscious, and then sadly later had to have one of his testicles removed. Anyway, back in the states I was starved of the privilege of watching men play and I was also starved from playing the sport myself. I went to university in England where the exposure to field hockey starts with children (both male and female) in elementary school. Even though I played basketball for my university I still found a weekend club team league in order to play hockey. My club team consisted of high school girls all the way up to women my mother's age. I was quickly catching on to the reason a person who happened to leave his/her own country might still have enough passion for a sport to continue to support that sport in another country. Because when you can't play, you support it. You support for love of the game.
All of that was running through my mind on Monday as watched the USA-Argentina compete in the sport I love. The first half of the game was mundane to say the least, as both teams appeared to be testing each other's boundaries. While the first half remained scoreless, however, the second half brought urgency from both teams as they were out to hear the sweet thunk of the ball hitting the back of the goal. The second 35 five minutes provided two quick warning cards (green) and two close shots on goal, including one from Virginia's very own Paige Selenski - I sure can't wait to have her back for her final year!
With 20 minutes still on the clock, the USA scored off a pass from outside the circle where Katie O'Donnell tipped the ball to send it straight to the back of the goal. THUNK! The crowd went wild. It wouldn't last long though as Argentina answered back with a goal of its own with 10 minutes left in the second half.
The crowd wanted more and during one of USA's corners a chant broke out ... U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! It didn't last long, but it was sweet to hear. Because even as small a sport as field hockey is in America, there are still people out there who believe so strongly in the sport that surely some day it can do nothing but rise as a sport that is played by all in America.
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