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March 21, 2021 — Southern Strategy, v2.0

A quarter of a century ago, in early 1996, the United States women’s field hockey team was in full-time training mode in the greater Atlanta area in preparation for the Atlanta Olympics.

A number of field hockey people, who had relocated to the Atlanta area, were intent on bringing the gospel of field hockey to school districts in and around the city. Despite their best efforts, Georgia still does not have varsity field hockey to this day. And not only has no Georgia college has yet picked up the sport, the two universities hosting field hockey at the Atlanta Olympics have fallen on hard times.

Fast forward to this month, and some developments in the field hockey world which seem to indicate that the future direction of American field hockey is once again heading towards the Sunbelt.

In minutes from the March board meeting of USA Field Hockey, it was revealed that the women’s national team is planning to move its training from Pennsylvania to Charlotte, N.C. The site would be Queens University, a Division II school which has an on-campus water-based pitch named Bessant Field.

The pitch is named for Catherine Bessant, a director of USA Field Hockey. The site is, according to USA Field Hockey board minutes, to be contracted for use by the national team between mid-2021 and mid-2023. We don’t know whether or not this pitch will also be the home ground for the United States for Pro League matches, or whether the team will still play its upcoming fixtures at Shelton Field at the University of North Carolina, located 140 miles northeast of Charlotte.

While all this is going on, a ready partnership could be showing itself in suburban Charlotte. Two towns over sits the town of Kannapolis, N.C., which is better known as the hometown of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt. The city also was the home of a towel and pillow factory, which shut down in the decade of the 2000s.

But city fathers and the state of North Carolina have embarked on a $1 billion construction project on the old mill site called the North Carolina Research Campus. The campus has attracted a number of research bodies, including those involved with life sciences. One of the tenants, Appalachian State University, has located a human performance lab in one of the buildings.

Following on is a private business called the United States Performance Center, which is located in Charlotte. The USPC, bolstered by the grandson of a United States Olympic Committee member, used to be located in Illinois before moving to the Sunbelt. It is planning a new lab on the Kannapolis site, which should be open by mid-2023, according to a news release.

But beyond that, the United States Performance Center has, according to its website, plans for a campus of between 40 and 70 acres in size. The proposed facility would include not only a lab, but athletic fields suitable for tournaments. Depending on how the site is laid out, this kind of acreage would be, I think, a prime location for a future National Hockey Festival.

And given the fact that the National Festival was scheduled to take place in the Carolinas in 2020, a future move to Kannapolis would not be out of character.

Question is, will this help the development of the sport in the deep South? That’s a question that only future initiatives can answer.

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