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Archive for Field hockey

July 21, 2019 — A hard self-reflection

PARENTAL ADVISORY: If you’re a teenager reading this, you may want to have a parent or guardian with you.


A friend of mine, a jazz singer from California, posted an interesting question on social media, in response to the arrest and denial of bail this week of Jeffrey Epstein, a financier who is being charged with sex trafficking.

My friend quoted journalist Sarah Kendzior, who said this on a podcast last December:

Donald Trump is friends with at least five pedophiles, most of whom were involved in sex trafficking or blackmail schemes. There’s (Jeffrey) Epstein, (John) Casablancas, (Tevfik) Arif, (George) Nader, (Roy) Cohn. Who the hell is friends with five pedophiles?

I thought for a second. To nobody in particular when I was reading the post, I said aloud, “Three.”

Part of what this site is about is reporting news and accomplishments in field hockey, lacrosse, and women’s sports in general. But a highly regrettable part of my reporting over the last two decades has been chronicling the arrests and convictions of people in the field hockey and lacrosse communities for various morals charges.

And of the dozen or so people who have been arrested, fired, or outright banned from their field hockey or lacrosse positions because of their actions, I can say that I knew three of them.

Well, let’s be clear: I thought I knew them.

When you’re a writer, in any beat, you get to know a lot of people, from the powerful to the pauper. You talk to coaches, parents, and some outliers — private coaches, trainers, alumni/ae, and athletic administrators.

In athletic competitions, I get to see two stories. One is the coach trying to get a group of 20 players to buy into a competitive vision. The other story is the parent ceding control of the child for a few weeks.

It’s the latter story that has, regrettably, led to many of the dozens of stories of teachers and coaches having sexual relations with students over the years. At one point, there was an average of more than one arrest per day being reported in newspapers around the country. It got to the point where Bob Reno, the editor of BadJocks.com, stopped counting (and, eventually, stopped publishing the site).

Given what I have seen, I ask myself all the time what I could have done to alter or prevent some of this behavior. Then again, even if I had influenced one person or another to not engage with an undercover FBI agent to trade child porn, or to not have sex with his students, or to not interfere with a police investigation, there would be many others.

Our nation, I think, is a sexual cesspool when it comes to adults and minors. The regrettable thing is that it’s taken the lurid tales surrounding the Larry Nassar trial and conviction to bring this to the fore.

Our President’s associates, and their predilections, are just another symptom. Nothing more to see here.

July 17, 2019 — Meanwhile, above the 49th Parallel

There was a point in the 1990s when the Canadian women’s field hockey program was regarded at least as an equal to the American side. American colleges were looking north for talent and that one gem of a player who could make a difference in the NCAA Tournament. Canada had medaled in two consecutive FIH World Cups, in 1983 and 1986, and is the only nation to have kept Argentina and the U.S. from finishing 1 and 2 in the Pan American Games, having taken silver in 1991 in Cuba.

But the Canadian women have not done so well in continental and world tournaments in recent years. Canada has not made a World Cup or an Olympics since 1996.

It’s not for lack of trying, but more and more young girls from Canada have been playing other sports where Canada are among the world leaders. This especially goes for ice hockey, where the country has been the gold standard since winning the first IIHF Women’s World Championship in 1990.

While the ice hockey and women’s soccer teams have been having great success, the field hockey team has turned to a modern method of staying afloat financially: crowd-sourcing. Here’s the story.

 

July 15, 2019 — The story repeats

Last Thursday, John Fickas, a person descriped as an “walk-on, off-campus assistant” coach for the field hockey team at North Salinas (Calif.), was arrested and held on charges of rape and sodomy for actions which reportedly occurred in 2009 and 2015, according to court documents.

According to early news reports, Fickas was the subject of several complaints by parents because of inappropriate touching and even drinking around players.

The school district’s response, in part, is as follows:

The safety and security of our students are a priority. Thus, once we were notified of the investigation we placed this coach on administrative leave, and as a result, he was directed to have no contact with any Salinas Union High School District student. We must respect the rights to privacy and due process of everyone involved, and the District cannot comment further on personnel matters or student information. As law enforcement moves forward we will take the appropriate disciplinary actions which may include termination of this coach. We appreciate the community’s understanding and support as we work through this unfortunate situation.

The optics, thus far, do not look good — especially for the school district. It’s amazing to me that, in an age where there’s a hypersensitivity about who gets access to minor teenagers in a school setting, that Fickas — and perhaps other coaches — were given a status, seemingly through the act of volunteering. It makes me wonder if there was a background check at all, something which, as I’ve come to learn in my reporting on several morals cases surrounding the U.S. field hockey community, has become a forgotten and/or misapplied tool in trying to shield students from predators.

In addition, I’m surprised at the volume of and nature of complaints regarding this assistant coach. Now, I don’t have the handwritten notes of the reporters involved, but if there was a significant pattern, somebody in the school’s athletic department really dropped the ball here.

What’s more, I’m disturbed that stronger action was not taken upon his arrest — especially given the fact that alcohol was involved. He is currently out on $400,000 bail until his arraignment a week from today.

The kicker, however is this: Fickas wasn’t even taken into custody on the rape charges until he appeared in court last Thursday to answer for charges of animal cruelty dating back to 2017.

Makes you wonder exactly where law enforcement’s priorities have been the last decade or so.

July 11, 2019 — An even longer road to Tokyo

As per usual, the U.S. men’s field hockey team is fighting long odds to make the 2020 Olympics. Its lone chance at getting into the Games is by winning the Pan American Games men’s tournament, which begins later this month.

A couple of days ago, USA Field Hockey and head coach Rutger Hauer announced the roster. Key players will include attacking midfielder Patrick Harris, one of the few U.S.-born players on a European club side (Mannheimer 1907 eV, Germany).

There are a number of expatriates on the team, including striker Deegan Huisman (Holland), brother Aki and Kei Keppeler, and goalie Jonathan Klages (Germany).

In terms of experienced players, there are a number of U.S. men on the Pan Am Games teams with 50 caps or more. There are, however, a handful of eye-opening decisions made by the U.S. selectors. Will Holt, veteran of 142 internationals, is on the list of alternates, while Alberto Montilla has been called in from the U-20 national team and should receive his first senior cap in Peru.

It’s a mixture of young talent and veterans, Americans and internationals, looking for the same goal: qualifying for a world tournament when not the host nation for the first time since 1956.

July 10, 2019 — A long road to Tokyo

The numbers don’t lie.

The U.S. women’s field hockey team, fresh off a two-win, 14-defeat campaign in the FIH Pro League, is going to rely on many of the same players who played on the team during League play at the Pan American Games next month.

Gone are players from the sides that won the last two Pan American titles; the lone holdover from Toronto 2015 is Alyssa Manley. The team will continue its youth movement,  including the likes of Erin Matson, Mackenzie Allessie, and Margaux Paolino. It’s going to fall to veteran striker Kat Sharkey not only for leadership, but for goals.

On defense, the coaching staff is going to build out from Kelsey Bing, the Stanford rising senior. But in terms of backliners, the U.S. is going to have to rely a lot on Caitlin Van Sickle, whose 143 caps lead all defenders.

The U.S. team’s focus, obviously, is a likely Aug. 10 meeting with Argentina in the final of the tournament, although a lot can happen between now and then.

And the American women certainly hope that the team that shows up is the one that drew at full time against Argentina Feb. 2, and not the one that lost 4-0 at Spooky Nook May 12.

July 7, 2019 — What the Holland women’s soccer team didn’t learn from its field hockey team

This afternoon, the U.S. women’s soccer team defeated Holland 2-0 in order to win its fourth FIFA Women’s World Cup.

It was a game that was eminently winnable on the part of the Dutch, as their bend-but-don’t-break defense and the goalkeeping of Sari van Veenendaal did something that nobody had done during this World Cup: hold the United States without a goal for the first half.

That was the good part of how Holland, the current European champions, were able to make the championship final. But in the second half, it all fell apart.

It didn’t have to, had the football team taken a few simple lessons from the current world women’s field hockey champions in the same country.

Holland’s stickwomen, which went 15-1 in FIH Pro League play this year, attacks from different points on the pitch. But the soccer team attacked up the middle almost every single time it had the ball. If you drew a line from the sides of the goal box and extended them upfield, this 20-yard corridor was the entirety of the Netherlands’ attack area, and you saw that Kelley O’Hara and Crystal Dunn were able to cheat in towards the center of the park to help center backs Becky Sauerbrunn and Abby Dahlkemper, making it nearly impossible to get a shot of any quality on goalie Alyssa Naeher.

But what I think also happened is that the U.S. team out-cultured Holland, the same way the reverse has happened in field hockey. Here’s what I mean: back in 1991, when the United States participated in the first world tournament which would retroactively be named the first Women’s World Cup, one aspect Anson Dorrance brought to the team from his days at the University of North Carolina was the concept of “play for each other.” For three decades, the ethic of the U.S. team was to not let their teammates down by a slack bit of skill, not going 100 percent for a loose ball, or through losing.

The Dutch hockey system, however, has relied on grass roots. The game has taken a strong hold in Holland’s society. Entire families often join a single hockey club, with children playing on age-group sides, and the adults on social sides unless they are at an elite level, in which case they would be on the club’s best team. This has given the Dutchwomen tremendous success, having won 11 world titles since 1971 and three Olympic golds, making the medals stand every Olympiad since 1996.

I have a feeling the shoe may be on the other foot very soon, especially given Holland’s dominion over field hockey the last 50 years.

July 3, 2019 — Arrogant, or just good?

Over the last two decades of running this site, I have witnessed some of the best field hockey lacrosse teams and individuals who have ever played the game both at the scholastic and collegiate levels.

Where do I start? The names of certain teams — Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), the University of Maryland, Moorestown (N.J.), the University of North Carolina, Emmaus (Pa.), Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.), Old Dominion University, Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.), The College of New Jersey, Watertown (Mass.), and Ellicott City Mount Hebron (Md.) — strike fear into the hearts of opponents everywhere.

And the players — from Kat Sharkey, Kelsey Kolojejchick, Austyn Cuneo, Meredith Sholder, Haley Schleicher, Rachel Dawson, Lexi Smith, Jill Witmer, and Mackenzie Allessie to Jen Adams, Sheehan Stanwick, Dana Dobbie, Taylor Cummings, Zoe Stukenberg, Kali Hartshorn, Megan Bosica, Carly Reed, Sophia Turchetta, Corinne Wessels, and Caitlyn Wurzburger — are all the stuff of legend in their respective sports.

All of these teams and individuals have come through during a time of increasingly intense scrutiny and withering criticism not of their own making, but by sometimes anonymous critics on both Internet message boards and on social media.

And so it was that, leading into yesterday’s U.S. women’s soccer match, the American team wasn’t just undefeated, it was labeled as being “arrogant.”

Leave it to writer Maggie Ryan, a former member of several high-flying San Diego Serra (Calif.) field hockey teams, to lend perspective to the double-standard good women’s athletic teams face.