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Nov. 21, 2016 — An appreciation: the 2016 Delmar (Del.) field hockey team

One in an occasional series.

There they were, about 25 white-and-orange-clad members of a state championship-winning field hockey team, sprinting towards an orange and blue maelstrom of supporters in the well between the north stands at Rullo Stadium at the University of Delaware and the chain-link fence surrounding the pitch.

The supporters — students, alumni/ae, former field hockey players, current football and soccer players — collided with the current players in a yelping, teary mass of hugs and congratulations. There must have been nearly 500 of them cramming the stands at Rullo, making the kind of noise that European soccer supporters would admire.

That rowdy rabble represents about a third of the total population of Delmar, Del., a town of about 1,597 located at the southern edge of the state of Delaware. It’s the smallest village with a school that plays field hockey in Delaware, a state which allows any and all competitors to be eligible for one state championship — large and small, public and private, Roman Catholic and Quaker, charter, magnet, and military schools.

And in the case of Delmar, it’s the only field hockey team in the United States whose school district straddles a state border. That state border is Route 54. Or Road 519, depending on whether you are in Delmar, Md. or Delmar, Del.

The Delmar field hockey team has had good success in the game of field hockey since 2010. The Wildcats have been in the state championship final every year but one since 2010, but had not been able to win. Indeed, when it came to girls’ sports at Delmar High School, not one team had won a sanctioned state title since the school opened in 1928.

That is, until a determined group took the pitch Friday night against Wilmington Tower Hill (Del.), a private school which not only had won 18 field hockey state championships, but had alumna and 2016 Olympian Caitlin Van Sickle on hand for the game.

Tower Hill had the opening corner in the second minute, but the ball was sent down to the other end of the pitch for a snowbird which almost went over the goal line. The Delmar fans cheered madly. Was it their night?

The answer was a definite “yes.”

Thanks in great part to the offensive skill of Peyton Kemp and the strong defense of Hailey Bitters, Caitlyn Wink, and Angelina Arter, Tower Hill was thwarted, frustrated, and interposed all evening.

Kemp and Madison Fletcher scored in the first half to give the downstaters a 2-0 lead. And it was all they would need.

The 3-0 win on the part of Delmar was not only the first championship for the field hockey team at the school, it was a tremendous experience for Jodi Byrd Hollamon, the Delmar head coach. Hollamon was a star player at the University of Delaware, and, in a sense, the game was a homecoming for her and her sister Juli Byrd Bradford, who coaches the Delaware Shore Byrds club side.

The victory was not just a homecoming, but it was the making of history. Hollamon, back in 2005, coached Salisbury Parkside (Md.) to the MPSSAA Class 2A championship. With Friday’s win on the part of Delmar, Hollamon joins a very short list of head coaches to have won field hockey championships in more than one state. The only other person that comes to mind is Daan Polders, the current coach at Malvern Villa Maria (Pa.), who has won championships in Pennsylvania and in Colorado.

But there was surely one special person watching over the game. That person was Susan Pusey, the aunt of Juli and Jodi Byrd. The legendary coach died shortly before the 2015 season, and last fall, the Pocomoke (Md.) team won the small-school title under her pupil, Brandi Castaneda.

This year? Delmar.

I don’t think it’s coincidence.

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