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Jan. 15, 2010 — The 2000s: The Game of the Decade

Fourth in a series.

Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) 2, Emmaus (Pa.) 1
Oct. 23, 2004

Regular-season game

It was a quiet morning hours before Emmaus (Pa.), a team destined to be the PIAA Class AAA champions in 2004, would meet Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), a team that would win the 2004 NJSIAA Group IV championship. But first, there was a matter of a game whose rumors sparked internet chat six months before the game was played.

On that quiet October morning, banners proclaiming “FIELD HOCKEY NO. 1 IN THE NATION” flew from the light poles near McAleer Stadium. The Philadelphia Inquirer published an advance on the game above the fold on the front page. Of the A section.

Soon, parents, teams, umpires, and about 4,000 fans showed up. So did a news camera from the top-rated local news station. It was an incredible buzz and atmosphere, and the game lived up to all that, and more.

But the pre-game hype is not the reason why the inaugural Eastern-Emmaus field hockey game was the Game of the Decade.

Instead, the game served as an inspiration for teams to look outside their traditional spheres of influence to find out-of-conference competition. For most of the last few years, you could count on coaches and athletic directors in the game of field hockey to be, frankly, risk-aversive and not schedule the best opposition available.

But non-league showcase matches happen all the time in other sports like basketball and lacrosse, and even in football, where you can use 1/10th of your season to schedule a challenging opponent, more and more teams are looking to add a regional powerhouse.

Credit should be given to both Susan Butz-Stavin, the Emmaus coach, and Danyle Heilig, the Eastern coach — not only for the original matchup, but for continuing to test each other and their own teams. Emmaus, for example, played Penn Manor this year as well as Eastern in its non-league schedule. Eastern has added Wyoming Seminary to its out-of-conference schedule.

Focus on this: without the first Eastern-Emmaus game, a lot of the rest of the decade’s Top 20 games would not have the same import as in the past. You probably wouldn’t have Sacred Heart coming out to Virginia Beach two years in a row, or going to Pennsylvania for a weekend’s worth of games. You wouldn’t have coaches calling each other up to schedule a special interstate breast-cancer fundraiser, or to organize new four-team one-day tournaments.

So, for the record, here’s the game story about one of the seminal days in American field hockey.

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