TopOfTheCircle.com

Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

Apr. 24, 2015 — A new era

Over the last 20 years, American field hockey has made a near-total transformation. Its Division I universities universally play on water-based turf. Many Division II and III schools, and most of your top scholastic programs, are playing on either water-based or rubber-based competition surfaces rather than grass.

But the 2015 season opens a new era in terms of turf adoption. Opening this season are not one, but two on-campus water-based hockey-specific turf pitches.

One is at Norfolk (Va.) Academy, the home of the defending VISAA champions, while the other is at St. Louis Villa Duchesne (Mo.).

The latter project is a product of the tradition that is Villa Duchesne (winners of nine postseason championships since 1982), plus some of the big ideas borne of Gateway Field Hockey Club Director and Villa Duchesne head coach Kate (O’Connell) Graft and her mother, Kelly Yates.

Yates, the founder and director of Gateway, has put together the largest invitational scholastic field hockey event in the United States, regularly attracting about 50 teams from across the country every Labor Day Weekend. She also helped launch the Gateway Sports Center in Chesterfield, Mo. just west of town, an indoor clubhouse that is about 12,000 square feet and serves as a home base for Gateway’s indoor team.

Needless to say, when the time came to fund the construction of the new turf at Condie Field, Graft and the Villa Duchesne administration dreamed big. Starting with a half-million donation, the school’s alumni/ae and parents raised more than $700,000 for the pitch and watering system. The facilityhad its ribbon-cutting ceremony a bit more than a week ago. The Saints will take on Graft’s alma mater, St. Louis Lafayette (Va.), in two days to open their home schedule.

A few hundred miles to the east, a similar effort has been taking place at the oldest private school in Virginia, Norfolk Academy. The school has been around since 1728 — before the Declaration of Independence. And its athletic department has been just as aggressive in providing a water-based competition surface.

The turf, lined for field hockey and women’s lacrosse, is already in place, ready for the Oaks’ home opener Sept. 1 against Virginia Beach Kellam (Va.). After that, however, is a Murderer’s Row of opponents the next 10 days. Norfolk Academy will take on Virginia Beach First Colonial (Va.) on Sept. 4, Virginia Beach Frank W. Cox (Va.) on Sept. 7, and Yorktown Tabb (Va.) on Sept. 11.

I’m supremely impressed with how both of these schools have executed their plans. There have been impressive installations of artificial grass benefitting field hockey programs from San Diego Serra (Calif.) to Oakton (Va.) to Greenwich (Conn.) Academy.

But water-based facilities are certainly a new idea. And when it comes to cash-strapped public schools, especially ones located in drought-affected areas, I think it is going to be a difficult sell for most of rest of the approximately 1,940 schools in the U.S. that have field hockey as a varsity sport. That is no reason, however, not to celebrate Norfolk Academy and Villa Duchesne for bringing their projects to completion.

Which is something you can’t say about the athletic department at the University of California, Berkeley.

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