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Archive for Field hockey

June 16, 2020 — A scandal in the Empire State

Last Friday, Erin Koonz, a former University of Connecticut field hockey player, and current coach of Kingston (N.Y.), was charged with having an inappropriate relationship with one of her 16-year-old field hockey players.

The Ulster County Family and Child Advocacy Center brought charges of endangering the welfare of a child and sexual abuse against Koonz, who had previous coaching engagements at Vassar College and the State University of New York at New Paltz.

According to reports, Ulster County began an investigation in March 2020 and the misdemeanor charges were brought on Friday.

Koonz is the latest in a string of people in the American field hockey community to have been brought up on morals charges the last decade and a half. A significant proportion of these are from New York, including the lurid tale of former U.S. international Todd Broxmeyer, currently serving out a Federal sentence for rape and child pornography.

Koonz coached Kingston (N.Y.) to its 13th straight New York Section 9 championship last fall, only to lose to Chappaqua Horace Greeley (N.Y.) in the state quarterfinal round.

June 14, 2020 — What this site is, and isn’t

woke (adj, slang) — to be aware of social issues, especially racism

The last three weeks have been ones of social upheaval in America, with nationwide protests and demonstrations against police misconduct against numerous minorities, especially the extrajudicial murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

This site has not gone with glib hashtags, has not blackened out the site or the logos on our social media presences.

Nor should it. You see, being “woke” means that you were asleep at one time or another.

And that’s hardly the case; I have been the kind of person who was taught to give people a chance when they are underrepresented in a field of endeavor. And I’ve noticed when others have not given underrepresented groups a chance either by commission or omission.

Over the last 22 years of writing this site, we’ve noticed plenty of problems in field hockey and girls’/women’s lacrosse when it comes to systemic problems which have damaged any progress in minority participation in the last 40 or so years.

It’s not as though the people who run these two games don’t know that there is a problem. There have been diversity efforts which stalled less than two years after their introduction at USA Field Hockey, and the point person for those efforts is now a marketing manager for a tech company.

Lacrosse has been a little more progressive, with recreational programs in Harlem, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, the latter with the reknowned Eyekonz program.

Yet when you look at the best college programs in the country? You won’t see a brown face. It’s also hard to find minorities in the senior national team pool. But for the last several years, there have been two unrelated women with similar surnames — Melissa Gonzalez and Linnea Gonzales — in the American field hockey lineup.

We also know that there are plenty of problems when it comes to the naming of schools and their teams. Over the last few years, some of the best scholastic teams have borne the nickname “Indians.” I have been reticent to call the schools out on this, mostly because true change has to come from the local level.

I think it’s the same when it comes to benefactors for schools. The leading girls’ lacrosse school the last decade just happens to be named for a slaveowner, John McDonogh.

All I can do is point out the current inequity and hope for the best.

June 12, 2020 — A curious condition for employment

In the last couple of days, an employment notice for the senior women’s national field hockey coach has been posted on the USA Field Hockey website.

Of course, given the announcement last week about the termination of contracts for the current men’s and women’s national team staffs, my first reaction was, “That was quick.”

Now, the person who will be taking over for Caroline Nelson-Nichols as head coach is going to have a number of responsibilities over the next few years, including coaching the team through the next three years of the FIH Pro League, next year’s Pan American Cup, and the 2022 World Cup.

But I also read through the nearly dozen bullet points of the job posting, and I found one of them interesting.

Nestled in the middle is this requirement:

Work closely with Director of Coach Education and Senior Manager of Coaching and Performance to ensure that coaches and elite athletes entering the program are aligned with the organizational coaching and athlete development philosophy and principles of play.

Question is, what does that mean? Well, let’s unpack this a bit. Whoever the coach is will be working with former U.S. coach Craig Parnham and with Phil Edwards, formerly an assistant with the U.S. women.

But it’s the latter half of the paragraph that gives me some pause.

What I read into it is that the coach, if hired, is going to be asked to find a certain player who is already in tune with an existing athlete development philosophy as well as a system of play.

In other words, a gifted player who plays a free-flowing improvisational game could very well be hamstrung in a centrally-dictated system.

USA Field Hockey has, for better or worse, been an influencer in how the game is played. Vonnie Gros, for example, changed the old British 5-3-1-1 system after studying the formation of the North American Soccer League’s Philadelphia Atoms, which had a lot of coaches adopting the 4-3-3 system through until the 2000s.

Terry Walsh, the former technical director of USA Field Hockey, was a further influencer, getting more teams to adopt a 3-3-4 system with four backs, saying in his opening address to the NFHCA Convention that a three-back system was a losing strategy.

Now, allowing the senior national team to influence the way the game is played in a particular nation is one thing. But trying to impose a philosophy of play (not just a formation) is something else. Back in 2011, U.S. Soccer replaced Bob Bradley with Jurgen Klinsmann, the legendary German forward who had coached his native land in 2006 as the host nation.

Klinsmann sought to impose a top-down solution to address the problems of the U.S. Soccer development program, even to the point where he made it known that every professional and amateur team in the country — from U-12s to MLS sides — should be playing exactly the same system.

To me, the problem with the American field hockey system isn’t about the system. We learned that during the tenure of Tracey Belbin, who had been brought on as U.S. women’s head coach for her knowledge of systems play. But all that knowledge didn’t translate to results at the international level, losing out on the 2000 Olympics and finishing ninth at the 2002 FIH Women’s World Cup.

My hope is that the choice of coaches for both the women’s and men’s national teams will reflect a certain degree of autonomy, allowing the coaches to do their job, so that the coaches can empower the players to do theirs.

June 11, 2020 — Justice is easier said than done

The events in America the last two weeks after the needless, racist execution of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police have exposed the problem of systemic racism across the United States.

It is a problem which has been part of the national conversation, frankly, since Reconstruction. It isn’t something that started with Emmitt Till, or Rodney King, or Trayvon Martin. No, these people are a continuum of victims of racial violence.

But it’s not just racial violence at the hands of lynch mobs or police that need to be fixed. It’s a system which puts social and economic power in the hands of a very few at the expense of mainly brown and black Americans.

This also happens in the realm of sports.

I’ve noticed a lack of diversity within the upper levels of field hockey and women’s lacrosse for a quarter of a century. It’s why I celebrate when I see the name Gonzalez on the back of a field hockey player at an international Test. Its why I tell stories about how good Cherie Greer was during her international lacrosse career.

Years ago, back in the time I was writing for the dailies, I did a story about minority participation in field hockey. There were some tremendous young women with brown skin who played for our local high schools, but they didn’t make it at the next level — something I very much regret.

Now, I’ve written about field hockey and women’s lacrosse over the last two decades. And I really don’t have solutions.

That’s why I’m handing this off to Team USA’s Kayla Treanor, who wrote on the U.S. Lacrosse website this past week on the lack of diversity within the sport.

June 9, 2020 — Another cancellation, another existential crisis?

Last evening, USA Field Hockey announced the cancellation of the National Futures Tournament.

The competition, which had been moved from Spooky Nook in Manheim Township, Pa. to the Virginia Beach Sportsplex in Virginia, was scheduled for about 10 days, to be spread amongst three age groups.

The tournament was not only an incubator for field hockey talent, it was also a revenue generator for the local economy as well as USA Field Hockey. The National Futures Tournament and its affiliated training program generates an sizable portion of the organization’s operating budget every year; estimates from published documents set Futures as generating somewhere near $2.3 million, out of a budget of some $9 million.

With the announcement yesterday of the cancellation of the National Futures Tournament, a chunk of the operating budget vanished instantaneously.

Then again, on the debit side of the budget, USA Field Hockey had announced salary freezes and the termination of several positions within the organization, including the head and assistant coaches of the senior men’s and women’s national teams.

Maybe that will limit the impact, but what’s the salary of eight people against a loss of more than two million dollars?

It’s enough to worry about the direction of the national governing body, going forward. Given what we have seen thus far as future competition in the sports world, it is indeed a muddled picture with no clear resolution.

June 8, 2020 — North of the border

The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has affected some countries more than others. While the United States far and away leads the world in the number of positive cases and the number of deaths, there are plenty of other nations dealing with their own numbers of sick, dying, and dead.

Canada has nearly 100,000 positive cases with about 7,800 dead. Despite numbers which are about 1/20th of those found in the United States, the country’s national governing body of collegiate sport took the step of cancelling all competition until the end of the calendar year.

This affects all fall competitions including field hockey, which has been floating at about nine or ten teams the last few years.

Though all players affected will retain their eligibility and may receive scholarship money for an extra year, I think this is an existential moment for Canadian collegiate field hockey at a critical time in the sport’s history.

The Canadian women’s national team is the current second-best team in the Pan American Hockey Federation, having won the silver medal in the Pan American Games last year for the first time since 1991.

Canada was able to do this with much fewer resources than those found in the United States. Canada has a strong club system, but only about a tenth of the scholastic and collegiate varsity programs compared to those found in the United States. Field Hockey Canada has been able to send members of its elite player pool to foreign clubs; most play in Belgium.

But I do wonder if this one-year pause in Canadian Interuniversity Sport competition is going to interrupt enthusiasm and/or player development in the critical teenage and early adult years, especially seeing as there’s not going to be a major tournament for the senior team for a year or more.

June 6, 2020 — A “pause”? Or a “hard reset”?

Thursday night, USA Field Hockey issued an eight-paragraph press release.

The release contained a pretty enormous news item: the termination of key coaching staff at the senior level. The United States national teams, as of June 30, will have no coaches, as head coaches Rutger Weise and Caroline Nelson-Nichols and assistant coaches Marc Hardy and Brian Schledorn will be terminated by then.

The press release justifies the move as part of an overall restructuring within the organization. Staff pay is being frozen, and eight positions are being eliminated, in addition to the termination of contracts for the coaching staffs of the national teams.

“With the suspension of the FIH Hockey Pro League for the remainder of the year and a pause on international travel for the foreseeable future, the opportunities for USA Field Hockey athletes to represent this country have been temporarily reduced,” says the release. “As a result, the organization is taking this opportunity to restructure.”

Now, in many organizations, terms like “restructure,” “downsize,” or even “right-size” are used as euphemisms for mass layoffs or furloughs. But this is different, almost to an existential extent.

USA Field Hockey is in a very difficult place. It has to spend money to get its national teams to engage in competition. Plus, it has spent other money investing in its partnership with Spooky Nook Sports, which collapsed spectacularly earlier this year. It has also spent money on upkeep of the Virginia Beach facility which the national team abandoned in the runup to Beijing 2008.

It is notable that the only event that USA Field Hockey has not yet cancelled is the National Futures Tournament, which is scheduled for mid-July in Virginia Beach.

It’s an event which makes tens of thousands of dollars for both USA Field Hockey and for the city of Virginia Beach.

If that gets cancelled, this restructuring will be a mere blip compared to what could be coming.

May 31, 2020 — A step forward?

For the last several years, the occasional male field hockey player has, for better or worse, affected state tournament results in the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association state tournament. Names like Ben Menard, Alex Millar, Nate Coolidge, and Lucas Crook have excelled in this the landscape and, for better or worse, been powerful reminders of the systematic exclusion of a single gender from the sport for the last century.

Last Friday, the MIAA Field Hockey Committee voted on a possible solution to the problem: varsity boys’ field hockey played in the 7-on-7 environment.

Massachusetts isn’t the only state to have legalized boys’ field hockey on boys’ teams; Pennsylvania did so only a few years ago, but not a single 11-member team has formed.

Whether seven-a-side field hockey teams will form in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is very, very much an open question.

“It’s going to take a little bit to grow,” MIAA associate director Sherry Bryant tells The Boston Globe. “We certainly know we have that passionate group in that coalition. We’ll make a plan, we’ll start some informal meetings. We’re advocating for passing the rule first, to at least get it on as a sanctioned sport.”

The passing of the proposal comes near the end of the window for the sport to be added by the 2021-22 academic year.

I commend this step, but can’t help wondering if creating a legal framework for a 7-on-7 competition is little but window dressing without a concerted effort to encourage boys to come out for field hockey.

Think of it: can you see even eight boys in one of Massachusetts’ exceptionally small school districts in the Berkshires or along the South Shore taking up the sport?

It would take some doing.

May 20, 2020 — A two-sport coaching great hangs up her whistle

The first time I met Diane Chapman, she was coaching the Garden City (N.Y.) field hockey team during perhaps the richest seam of form of any team at any time.

Back in 1998 and 1999, the Trojans could have also been called The Invincibles. The team achived the co-No. 1 ranking for this site’s regional rankings alongside Winslow (Maine), as both teams went through the 1998 season unbeaten and unscored upon. Garden City had a good argument of being the top team in the nation alongside a good Escondido San Pasqual (Calif.) team.

Garden City would extend its unscored-upon string of games to 32, which, in the days of grass (the team used the school’s football field) was a remarkable achievement given the nature of field hockey as a low-scoring game where a stout defense is predicated on a number of seemingly random factors.

Chapman announced her retirement earlier this week, after three decades at the helm of the field hockey program, winning seven state championships. She also had a heck of a girls’ lacrosse program, winning 10 state titles in region (Long Island) which has rounded into the single best incubator of girls’ lacrosse talent in the country.

Her Garden City teams often ascended the heights of national rankings. By April 2012, the Trojans were the No. 2 team in the nation according the LaxPower.com computer ratings.

But on April 21, 2012, Garden City took on No. 1 Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) during the Maryland-New York Lacrosse Challenge, but fell by a score of 20-9.

Chapman was gracious after the game, seeing how McDonogh rolled out to a 15-5 margin at one point of the match.

“They’re in a league of their own,” she said after the match. “We’ve played some great teams, but nobody goes at that speed.”

Chapman will slow down her life now that she is going to be on the sidelines. She’s the latest prominent coach who has decided to end her scholastic coaching career. And she’s going to be very much missed.

“I’ve been blessed to have chosen a profession with teaching and coaching sports that I have a passion for,” she tells Long Island Newsday. “I’ve had incredible assistant coaches and we’ve experienced so many incredible moments. They were all different and yet unique. Every success was a fantastic experience with all the different players.”

May 15, 2020 — A letter for the Ides of May

Dear Tiffany:

I can’t believe it’s been 23 years this evening since I got the news that you had left us.

So much has happened down here on Earth and in Mercer County, it’s pretty incredible. The number of schools with artificial grass for field hockey is pretty amazing, and that includes your beloved Ewing Blue Devils, which now play their games on turf in the football stadium.

Regretfully, the school district has removed the scoreboard behind Antheil Elementary proclaiming “Tiffany Bashore Field.” I looked at the back lot from Google Earth, and I’m a little disheartened that the team’s old grass pitch is no longer named for her. But progress, I guess, is hard-won.

Tiffany, you have spawned phalanx of young women who have spanned the globe — lawyers, teachers, and at least one employee of the U.S. Department of Justice.

They are now living in an uncertain world, one which has changed significantly since botched responses by governments have allowed something called the Coronavirus to spread around the world. It has killed more than 300,000 people worldwide, including more Americans than were lost in the Vietnam War.

This contagion has led people to shelter in place at home as if the atmosphere has toxic gas. It has created new service jobs as meal and grocery deliveries to homes have spiked. It has also created new jobs for technology as video telephony and conferencing have seen increased demand.

Thanks to teleworking, I am still working my regular job as I maintain this site. And we’ve had such great stories to tell.

We’ve seen some extraordinary athletes over the last decade or so, including two players who have scored more than 300 goals in field hockey, and a dozen players who have been responsible for more than 600 goals (either scored or assisted) in lacrosse.

I have also seen a number of coaches, however, who have dropped out of scholastic coaching to work in the world of club lacrosse and club field hockey. This includes coaches who were at the absolute apex of the sport, but who have chosen a different path because teacher stipends and overall teaching salaries are so low, even in high-participation union states such as New Jersey

So, how am I doing?

My biggest issue is that I have cancer. Treatment begins in a couple of weeks with hormone therapy, but I had a surgery to fix an abdominal fistula which was leading into the area where the prostate sits. It’s been painful, but I have confidence in my team of doctors who are attacking this problem. I think I’m going to be OK, since my cancer is one that does not spread with the lethality of ovarian, skin, or pancreatic cancer. I’m lucky.

So, until I get up there (which is going to be later rather than sooner), make sure to say hello to Jim Davis and Constance Appleby and Betty Shellenberger for me.

Yours in hockey,

Al