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BULLETIN: Aug. 6, 2020 — The Commonwealth of Field Hockey is on a knife edge

Today, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf announced a recommendation that no high school sports take place before the start of 2021. The recommendation came during a noon news conference.

The recommendation came in the name of trying to limit congregate settings. “That,” Wolf said, “means anything that brings people together is going to help that virus get us. We ought to do everything we can to defeat that virus.”

The Coronavirus, as we mentioned this morning, has already disrupted preseason activites at the University of Louisville, as well as some schools which started up in the deep South — one of which was your Founder’s old elementary school.

After the new conference, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, the state’s governing body for high-school sports, had a teleconference with members of the governor’s staff, and, according to PIAA administrator and current U.S. Masters field hockey team member Melissa Mertz, the recommendation remained in place after the meeting.

This afternoon, after an executive session, the PIAA responded with a short statement saying that a response will be forthcoming tomorrow afternoon.

For a commonwealth which has sent generations of football, football, field hockey, and soccer players to the next level, the loss of a PIAA fall sports season would be an enormous event.

While the PIAA’s board seems ready to make a go of it, I do wonder if the plan will eventually send these sports to the late winter/early spring, like in Virginia.

BULLETIN: Aug. 6, 2020 — The WPLL folds in favor of an as-yet unproven model

Today, it was confirmed that the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League, the second attempt at a professional league, was ceasing operations.

“The decision to close down the WPLL was a difficult one, but in order to give these exceptionally talented women what they deserve we had to find investors and sponsors that could fully support the league financially,” league founder DeJuliis tells Inside Lacrosse. “The WPLL was a great foundation and launched our sport into the national conversation in regard to professional sports. We are proud of what has already been accomplished and excited for all that’s ahead.” 

Pro women’s lacrosse, after the shutting of the WPLL door because of COVID-19, is looking out a very uncertain window. DeJuliis is in talks with an organization called Athletes Unlimited, an organization which is player-focused when it it comes to how players are paid and marketed.

You may remember Athletes Unlimited from the scandal surrounding the Scrap Yard Dawgs softball team, whose players walked out of the locker room after a Twitter message from the team’s general manager tweeted a photo of players standing along the baselines for the national anthem and tagging President Trump.

The reason you may remember it is because the seven-game series between the Dawgs and the USSSA Pride was to have been an attempt to reboot the Women’s Professional Fastpitch league during this unprecedented summer. That’s because a lot of players on other league rosters have jumped ship to Athletes Unlimited.

Amongst the people already backing the new venture are softball legends Cat Osterman and Jessica Mendoza, and NBA star Kevin Durant.

Now, the talks between the WPLL and UA come before a single pitch has been thrown in UA’s inaugural softball season, which is scheduled to start in Rosemont, Ill. on Aug. 30th.

The UA effort is expected to try to also start a volleyball league, something which has been attempted on numerous occasions since 1975 with a co-ed league featuring, of all people, Wilt Chamberlain.

Now, we don’t know whether UA will have the funding and will to take on a pro women’s lacrosse circuit, especially with the proposed Olympic rules coming down the pike in 2028.

Also will the league be a 6-on-6 version, or the hybrid and physical 11-on 11 version that featured tremendous pros like Taylor Cummings, Kara Mupo, and Dana Dobbie?

Like many issues in women’s athletics this year, we’re left with more questions than answers. I hope the women will have a chance to get more pro playing opportunities going forward.

Aug. 6, 2020 — The pandemic of the now

Last evening, the University of Louisville announced the stoppage of team activities for four fall sports: men’s soccer, field hockey, women’s soccer, and women’s volleyball.

The precipitating incident was an off-campus party on Aug. 1, which gave a number of student-athletes some flu-like symptoms. Through contact tracing, a total of 29 student athletes tested positive for Coronavirus.

“It goes without saying that I’m incredibly disappointed and frustrated today with what’s occurred,” said Louisville athletic director Vince Tyra in a teleconference yesterday. “We’ve noted from the very beginning that we have a strong commitment from our medical and administrative staff in the athletic department that we expect to be met with the same commitment from our student athletes. Unfortunately, we’ve had a failure in the recent week to do so.”

It’s a frightening development. It’s not because of the usual kind of devil-may-care attitude amongst the usual college-age demographic, but it’s because that attitude has not been curtailed or mitigated during this worldwide pandemic.

The best-laid Coronavirus plans, in many segments of our society, have been shot down by normal human behavior, whether it is a women’s soccer team attending an Orlando bar, a Georgia second-grader infecting entire school classrooms, or an off-campus party in Kentucky.

There is, literally, so much at stake for Division I collegiate athletics with the worldwide pandemic, particularly because Louisville is one of the 130 schools eligible for the lucrative billion-dollar College Football Playoff system.

Believe me, the other 129 schools are going to take a look at this situation very carefully, for the safety and well-being of the student athletes in all sports as well as their families and the rest of the student body.

BULLETIN: Aug. 5, 2020 — And Division II follows suit

This evening, the Council of Presidents for NCAA Division II institutions made the same announcement that the Division III Council did this afternoon. Fall championships for these schools, and the two dozen or so who offer field hockey, will not be happening.

“After reviewing and discussing the Board of Governors’ directives, the Division II Presidents Council made the difficult decision that holding fall championships in any capacity was not a viable or fiscally responsible option for Division II,” council president Sandra Jordan said in a statement. “This decision was discussed very thoroughly, and I assure you, it was not made lightly. It is important to note that fall student-athletes will be given eligibility-related flexibility to allow them championship opportunities in the future.”

As we mentioned earlier today, Division II field hockey competition was significantly watered down with the two major conferences in the sport having opted out of playing this fall.

So, with the opting out of Canada Interuniversity Sport, the National Junior College Athletic Association, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, and NCAA Division II and III, the only governing body of college sports planning in North America to make a go of it in the face of nearly five million confirmed cases is NCAA Division I.

Division I, however, has two significant and moneyed subsets. The Football Bowl Subdivision and the Power Five conferences have a lot of say as to what goes on at the top levels of college sports.

But let’s see what the say is. We may get an indicator as early as tomorrow.

BULLETIN: Aug. 5, 2020 — Another incremental pinhole in the bubble

This afternoon, the Council of Presidents for NCAA Division III, the most populous division in the major governing body for college sports in the United States (443), decided to cancel all fall sports championships, including field hockey.

“Looking at the health and safety challenges we face this fall during this unprecedented time, we had to make this tough decision to cancel championships for fall sports this academic year in the best interest of our student-athlete and member institutions,” chair Tori Murden McClure said in a written statement. “Our Championships Committee reviewed the financial and logistical ramifications if Division III fall sports championships were conducted in the spring and found it was logistically untenable and financially prohibitive.”

The Division III championship field would have been substantially enervated, as a number of conferences followed the lead of Bowdoin College, the first school to put a stop to fall sports way back on June 22 — six weeks ago. Since then, many of the 158 field hockey-playing schools have seen either delays or outright cancellations, either initiated from the campus or the conference levels.

This leaves many questions. For example, we don’t know exactly how many Division III colleges will engage in competition this season, since the statement only covers championship events.

We also don’t know whether Division II will follow Division III’s lead. But it is likely; think of field hockey, as the two major Division II conferences — the PSAC and Northeast-10 — suspended all athletic competition for at least the fall. That leaves 12 other teams adrift.

And, of course, we also don’t know when or if Division I will make some sort of call in the near future.

Stay tuned.

Aug. 5, 2020 — A prominent lacrosse event is partially cancelled

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected a number of athletic events nationwide, although the world of youth lacrosse has been strangely defiant in the face of 4.9 million positive tests nationwide and 160,000 dead.

Youth lacrosse tournaments have been going on nationwide, and not without some controversy.

This weekend, the delayed Under Armour All-America extravaganza is scheduled to take place. But bowing to the difficult logistics of managing competition involving players from states which require quarantining, the two nationwide senior all-star games have been cancelled, and the underclass tournaments have gone to a regional basis rather than joining up in a common location.

Over the next several weeks, underclass all-star teams will assemble in Brooklandville, Md.; Westfield, Ind.; Chester, Pa.; and a Long Island site yet to be determined to cut down on travel, and these four regionals will lead to a fall tournament to determine an overall champion.

The cancellation of the senior game, however, robs us of a chance to see Reilly Casey of Alexandria Bishop Ireton (Va.) and Caitlyn Wurzburger of Delray American Heritage (Fla.) on the same attack unit before they don the pale blue of the University of North Carolina. And there will also be a number of tremendous players on both the North and South teams who aren’t going to have a last go before arriving on campus to train for fall ball.

You have to feel for the organizers, Corrigan Sports Enterprises, who have had to navigate this epidemiological and regulatory minefield that has occurred since the World Health Organization’s declaration in mid-March. It is my hope that the event doesn’t put the participants and their families at risk.

Aug. 4, 2020 — The 2010s: The 10 who defined the decade

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The game of field hockey nationwide has gone through a lot of change — and dare I say, upheaval? — since the beginning of 2010. There have been so many moving parts up and down the levels of the game that it’s hard to pick just 10 people who defined what the last decade was all about. Here’s our shot in the proverbial dark:

10. Alli Tanner. As a representative for Harrow Sports, she spearheaded the Harrow Cup, a field hockey tournament that had a $10,000 cash prize for the team that could come out on top. The 2013 event was an unprecedented happening at Temple University, one which got the attention of sponsors, hockey players, and organizers. I can’t help thinking this tournament is what spurred both national and international organizers to come up with new ideas for competitions, including the FIH Pro League.

9. Danyle Heilig. For a second decade, she ran the table when it came to winning state championships at Voorhees Eastern (N.J.). Her teams routinely breached the 200-goal barrier for seasons, and her players (Austyn Cuneo, Nikki Santore, Ryleigh Heck) led the nation in goals six times. Her surprise offseason retirement after her 21st straight state title is likely to set in motion a number changes with coaching positions in both South Jersey schools and the club system, as she is the founder of the Uprise club side. She’s already assembled a raft of good coaches at the latter.

8. David Hamilton. The performance director for the U.S. national team sides got results from his use of transponders measuring speed, body temperature and pulse. These sensors, which would become omnipresent through devices such as the Apple Watch and the FitBit, helped the U.S. hone and target fitness goals during practices as well as games. Hamilton now has the same job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFL, working with the game’s most decorated quarterback, Tom Brady.

7. Steve Horgan. As an FIH umpire manager after his retirement as an international match official, he took a part-time position in 2011 as the National Umpire and Technical Manager for USA Field Hockey, and eventually became the Director of Umpiring nationwide. Under him, the quality of umpiring has gotten better with common interpretation standards nationwide and, and you have seen a lot of former players, including U.S. international Tracey Arndt, being recruited to umpire hockey.

6. Katie Bam. She started the decade by winning the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Athlete of the Year for team sports. No American field hockey player had ever won a major annual award encompassing multiple sports. such as the AP Athlete of the Year, Sports Illustrated Athlete of the Year, or the Sullivan Award. The fearless forward was a key cog for the States in numerous international tournaments, including the winning of two Pan American Games golds and the first major FIH trophy for the States, the 2014 FIH Champions Challenge.

5. Karen Shelton. To be fair, North Carolina didn’t win the most Division I championships in the 2010s; Connecticut did (three). But Shelton’s Heels made the Final Four every single year in the 2010s. Yep, 10 in a row; 11 when you count 2009. Plus, the university built a new hockey-specific stadium on campus and named it for the former U.S. Olympian. It’s now the home ground for Team USA.

4. Austyn Cuneo. She was a transformative player for Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), using her athleticism and relentlessness to break the existing national record for goals scored by a high-school player. She parlayed that into international success with her selection to the U.S. team participating in the Pan American qualifier for the Youth Olympic Games. But I think her major impact was the fact that she broke a glass ceiling for scholastic players. Not only was it possible to score 300 goals in a career or 90 in a season, she made it culturally OK to do so, erasing one of field hockey’s unwritten rules.

3. Katelyn Ginolfi. The UNC product was a stalwart midfielder for the United States, but it was her abrupt 2018 retirement from international hockey that cast the U.S. team adrift from its perch as a contender for international trophies. You could see how lost the U.S. backfield was during the 2018 World Cup, especially in the goals Ireland scored in the tournament opener.

2. Erin Matson. The forward was a feature player at the age of 11 on the U.S. indoor national team, then did something highly unusual in her teens. She played only two seasons for her high-school team, choosing instead to train full-time both on her own and with the U.S. women’s national team. She helped the U.S. team win a semifinal tournament in the 2017 World League, and played for the U.S. in the 2018 World Cup.

1. Sam Beiler. The former pretzel magnate helped turn an aluminum distribution warehouse in Manheim, Pa. into the enormous Spooky Nook complex, which became the Home of Hockey. The facility, chock-a-block amongst the best youth field hockey talent nationwide, became a source of inspiration in Lancaster, Lebanon, and York County in central Pennsylvania. It’s no accident that a number of tremendous players and teams have started coming from neighboring boroughs — the Spooky Nook Effect. This included U.S. national team player Mackenzie Allessie, who attended school four miles due west of the facility.

Aug. 3, 2020 — Three neighboring states teetering on the edge

Combined, the states of Ohio, Maryland, and Pennsylvania have about 500 of the 1,950 high school field hockey programs in America.

Today, all three are in serious doubt about whether they will be able to play their seasons, despite statewide “return to play” initiatives which have been rolled out for school districts.

Maryland was the latest state to opt out of playing today, as the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) followed the lead of the state’s most populous school district and postponed both fall semester sports and winter sports through the first semester of the public school year.

Meanwhile, Ohio schools have been getting mixed signals. Currently, an order from the Ohio Department of Health has allowed preseason in many sports and the start of play in non-contact sports like golf and tennis to take place in as little as 10 days from now. However, the state’s governor, Mike DeWine, may have the final say in the matter in a decision which could override what the Department of Health said.

Similarly, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf will have the final say as to whether scholastic sports will take place in the commonwealth, and remarks at a news conference this afternoon with state health secretary Rachel Levine paint a bleak picture.

“I’m not sure we’ve figured out exactly how we can do this, but what happens in schools should be consistent with what happens on the playing fields,” he said to the assembled media. “In other words, if the school is going completely virtual, it seems hard to justify having in-person contact sports being played in the fall. If the school is going to be open and feels it’s safe — if teachers, administrators parents feel it’s safe to reopen — that’s a different proposition for contact sports.”

In a couple of days, Wolf is set to clarify proposed rules banning spectators from scholastic sports this fall, and could very well either set guidelines for non-contact sports or cancel fall competition altogether.

It isn’t looking good, folks.

Aug. 2, 2020 — Is the NCAA in a meltdown?

This dropped today from Sports Illustrated. It’s an uncomfortable read, but it may explain what could very well happen in the next month.

Aug. 1, 2020 — A look back at field hockey the last decade

This month, going to take a our usual long-lens look at the last decade in field hockey with our usual spread of thoughts and opinions.

Here’s what we’re planning:

Aug. 4: The 10 people who defined the decade
Aug. 7: The 10 people who will define the next decade
Aug. 11: Games of the Decade, No. 20 to No. 2
Aug. 14: Game of the Decade
Aug. 18: Player of the Decade
Aug. 21: Coach of the Decade
Aug. 25: Programs of the Decade
Aug. 28: The All-Decade Team