TopOfTheCircle.com

Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

May 15, 2017 — A 20-year letter

Dear Tiffany:

I can’t believe that it has was 20 years this evening when I was tapped on the shoulder in the newsroom while writing another lacrosse wrap. And it was then when I got the news that you had left us.

I guess part of why your death hit me so hard wasn’t just because it was the first time a coach on my beat had passed away. It was because you taught and reinforced a lesson that I’ll always remember from sportswriting: though the focus should be on the athletes on the field, the coaches often are the ones that make the best stories.

And this is especially true in field hockey, where a lot of the stories are about feminism in the wake of Title IX as well as the ways that today’s coaches are trying to stretch the boundaries of what is possible in this ancient stick-and-ball game.

In the last five years, I have seen a field hockey player break 300 goals, and a lacrosse player break 600 goals. I have seen a lacrosse coach exceed 700 wins, and two field hockey coaches 800 wins.

I have seen 15-year-olds do what adult players could not do in the early 1990s when it comes to body and hand control and what they could do to propel a 2 1/2-inch ball (whether it is white plastic or yellow rubber) into a goal cage.

And yet, behind all of that excellence have been coaches who have been willing to teach a higher level of game to their players.

What I especially have noticed is that coaching trees are extending with deep roots into the high-school and club programs around the country. Coaches with international playing experience are giving that next-level wisdom to their students.

Which is all well and good.

I still, however, find the hard-working player from the mid-table team to be the one that makes the biggest impact, at least on me. What I’m seeing in recent years is that there are not as many schools that were in the situation you were in when you took over Ewing all those years ago. Athletic directors now actually want to have competent coaches in their ranks and not people who would take over for a year, earn a three-month stipend, then go on their merry way to be replaced by another coach the next season.

Leslie (Lehr) Conant has done a good job with what she has been given in her time at the helm. In fact, something happened seven months ago today that you’d have been proud of: Ewing beat a good Hopewell Valley team in double overtime in the Mercer County Tournament.

In fact, that was about 20 years ago to the day when Ewing had a chance to qualify automatically for the state tournament but for Hopewell Valley. These days, a team no longer has to have a .500 record to make the state tournament; a team can simply apply to enter.

I was so hoping that you would be able to see the game grow in Ewing Township thanks to the fire and passion you brought to the program in your short term as head coach.

It’s a fire that I feel every time I read your six-part Game Plan.

But now, I’m hoping you’re carousing and having a good laugh with Jim Davis. Give him my best, would you?

Yours in hockey,
Al

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