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Archive for Lacrosse

Nov. 7, 2019 — An educational windfall, and an opportunity

Yesterday, an educational proposal worth some $2.2 billion was unveiled, promising curriculum changes, and new school and infrastructure construction for the State of Maryland.

The announcement follows on the funding plan assembled by the Kirwan Commission, a blue-ribbon panel of experts. Using casino and money from an educational trust fund, the plans would expand pre-K, increase salaries, implement advanced curriculum, target funding towards underperforming schools, and add a mechanism for accountability.

Education, it seems, will be on the mind of many Maryland legislators during the 2020 legislative session, which occurs between the first week of January and the first week of April.

And, I think, there is an opportunity here to rectify an imbalance — actually, several of them.

In field hockey and lacrosse, the regular season in the state of Maryland is just 12 games, the shortest mandated regular seasons in the nation for these two sports.

But change is slow and frustrating in The Free State. To make any sort of substantive change requires an act of the state legislature, not a rule passed by the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, since the MPSSAA is part of the Maryland Department of Education.

I did an interview back in 2000 with Lil Shelton, the head field hockey coach at Severna Park (Md.), who expressed frustration with the way that scholastic sports were run in the state. It had taken a lot of her social capital to get a friend of hers to introduce a resolution allowing field hockey (and other sports) to add an in-season tournament of up to two games to the schedule.

But I’m looking to do more. I’m drafting an actual legislative bill, with the working title the Schedule Equity Act (or SEA) of 2020.

What it would do is direct the MPSSAA to adopt schedule lengths dependent upon the average of the four surrounding U.S. states — Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia. We would have included the District of Columbia, but the DCIAA has a much smaller athletics footprint (except for football and basketball), and their numbers might affect the averages.

So, here’s a listing of sports, the length of season for the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, and the average for the four surrounding states (three in the case of field hockey and lacrosse, because neither sport is officially sanctioned by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission):

SPORT MPSSAA AVG
Field hockey 12 16.3
Football 10 10
Cross Country 10 14.25
Soccer 12 17.75
Volleyball 15 19.75
Basketball 20 21.5
Swimming 12 14.75
Indoor Track 10 12.3
Wrestling 14 17.5
Baseball 18 22.5
Softball 18 22.5
Golf 12 15.75
Tennis 18 17.75
Outdoor track 10 14.5
Lacrosse 12 15.6

Only one sport remains constant across all five juristictions: football, as all play a 10-game regular season.

There are some interesting variations in other athletic endeavors. West Virginia boosts the games-played average in baseball and softball because they have a 32-game regular season in comparison to the 18 in Maryland and Delaware.

Virginia drags down the average in both indoor and outdoor track, with just 10 dual meets allowed in their regular season — presumably, the work gets done in the VHSL during District, Regional, and State all-comers meets.

Our scenario, if enacted, would direct all but two athletic activities in the MPSSAA’s purview — football and tennis — to increase their regular-season schedules. These increases would be at least two games per sport, and as many as six for soccer.

The argument about why scholastic sports team schedules should expand is as simple as equality. With Maryland being such a small state, there could be a danger of athletic flight, with families moving over state lines in order to give their children a better environment for playing the sport they love at their school.

But there’s also another reason. Players and coaches in Maryland have the same 12 weeks together as a team as other teams in neighboring states. There should be more games in Maryland so that players aren’t training day after day late in the season with little to do unless you’re a playoff team.

Having an extra two to four games in a season also won’t cost schools all that much money, since the uniforms, sticks, trainers, and playing fields are already paid for. And with more than $2.2 billion coming in from casino and other funding, opportunities should be opened for existing sports teams.

Over the course of months, I’ll try to bring you some progress reports as to how this bill goes through the process. I’ll try to take you into the smoky backrooms as legislators talk up this bill. Heck, if this gets enough popular support (i.e., goes viral), perhaps your Founder might have to register as a lobbyist.

And wouldn’t that be something?

Oct. 29, 2019 — A milestone

Today’s National Top 10 has a special significance, as it was the 5,000th blog entry for this site.

Ever since we transitioned our entries over from a very clunky Yahoo site (something which, seemingly, foreshadowed its exit from the blogging business) into WordPress back in July 2006, the blog catalogued 13 years’ worth of achievement, endeavor, and, we think, history.

We’ve seen how history has repeated itself between the field hockey and lacrosse communities, in that:

  • the two winningest coaches in either sport (Susan Butz-Stavin and Kathy Jenkins) are currently active;
  • the highest scorers in the history of the game (Mackenzie Allessie and Caitlyn Wurzburger) are graduating within a year of each other;
  • the longest unbeaten streaks (McDonogh and Watertown) were snapped in the same academic year;
  • And, for a while, the top teams in the country in each sport (Eastern and Mount Hebron) were called the Vikings.

What was initially conceived as BlogOfTheCircle, an occasional place for insights, has become the major driver of eyeballs to TopOfTheCircle.com. It has given you lists, opinions, statistical analysis, and breaking news — especially a surfeit of field hockey news on Nov.  14 and 15, 2007.

We reported on some of the semifinal action in state tournaments in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. A few hours later, we added a bulletin about Oak Knoll beating Eastern in the second NJSIAA Tournament of Champions — the origin of The Garden State Firm. The next evening, we had the news that Sussex Tech was no longer going to be in the Delaware state tournament because of an ineligible player.

Throughout it all, we’ve had context and perspective. We’ve stuck with our journalistic principles in reporting facts (with the occasional opinion herein). As such, I think our proudest moment was Nov. 19th, 2015, when we recapped two frenetic days of field hockey action from several states on a timeline.

Another moment was in early 2010 when we broke the news of mandatory eyewear in scholastic field hockey, a development which changed the game since players got to be more fearless attacking the scoring circle, leading to the current Score-O Decade.

And there was the weekend where we got the most views: the Maryland-New York Challenge in April 2012. There were eight games over the weekend and it threatened to overload the limits that we had at the time on our bandwidth.

So, here’s to 5,000 more blog entries to come!

Oct. 10, 2019 — A final domino

Recently, the world governing body of men’s and women’s lacrosse, called “World Lacrosse,” published new guidelines for the international women’s game.

Some of these changes were expected, such as the institution of free movement, which now makes it the supreme law of girls and women’s lacrosse around the world.

There are other rules, however, that are a little puzzling. The rules change takes away the 12-meter arc (which is called a 15-meter arc internationally because the point of measurement is from the center of the goal circle and not from the crease), and keeps a slightly altered 8-meter fan. The main alteration is that there is not going to be an “island” hash to the extreme left or right wing; instead, any free position shot must start from one of the five hashmarks on the edge of the fan.

Fair enough; that seems to be a hallmark of the WPLL, whose arc is altered slightly to draw perpendicular lines from the goal line to the elbow of the fan to make it look like a grapefruit wedge.

I’m glad that, in this iteration of international rules changes, is that World Lacrosse has not instituted some of the radical proposed Olympic rules using a smaller pitch, taking away the incentive to back up errant shots, and mandating just six players a side.

That, I think, is a bridge too far.

 

Oct. 2, 2019 — A labor conundrum

Remember this?

Earlier this week, this happened.

The Fair Pay to Play Act allows college athletes, at least those in California, to make money off endorsements, and to make money off the usage of their names, images and likenesses. In addition, athletes would be able to hire agents.

Since the bill was signed, there has been all sorts of speculation about where the legislation could be passed next. And, of course, the speculation has started in states with football factories such as Florida and Texas.

But news outlets near Pittsburgh have reported that a pair of Allegheny County legislators are proposing similar legislation for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Could Pennsylvania be a game-changer? If you’re thinking only about Fair Pay to Play as only being for football and men’s basketball, the universe of discourse is just 14 schools, of which only three — Temple, Penn State, and Pittsburgh — are in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

But my thinking goes far beyond revenue sports.

Instead, think about the fact that the national governing body of field hockey has its primo training center in Pennsylvania. And think about the number of college-eligible athletes who have had to sacrifice to play for the national team while being in college because they can’t make ends meet.

Now, you’re wondering why I’m thinking about the college athlete as a prime candidate for participation in the U.S. high-performance system. It’s no different from past years: the history of field hockey in America is full of tales about collegiate (and even some scholastic) players on the U.S. team because of the difficulty of retaining postgraduate players.

Here’s the thinking: if college players making the U.S. high-performance level are able to receive an extra stipend from their university, that is, for me, an extra opportunity to retain that player once their college eligibility ends.

And even though the rules regarding Fair Pay to Play would only involve a handful of people on the current women’s national team, the effect would be significant, especially since one of the current collegians on the Olympic qualification team is goalie Kelsey Bing, who attends Stanford.

It’s an interesting thought experiment. And it could be interesting to see what comes of the legislation once it goes through judicial review.

Sept. 3, 2019 — A pair of departures from an unusual place

Judy Baxter and Beth Patterson are two of the best scholastic coaches you probably have never heard of. That is, unless you ran into Eden Prairie (Minn.) on a lacrosse pitch.

Two decades ago, these two women started a lacrosse program in suburban Minneapolis, and it has burgeoned and grown in the years since. These coaches singlehandedly ignited the sport to where it is today: a sanctioned sport by the state governing body of scholastic sports, with nine state titles and 16 appearances in the state title game.

Last week, they announced that they would be stepping away from the program they birthed and nurtured for 20 years.

Baxter’s coaching and playing resumes are particularly remarkable. As Judy Turner, she was a stalwart at Lehigh University, first as a player, then as a coach for both the field hockey and lacrosse teams. She somehow found a way to be part of the U.S. women’s national team pool, and was one of the last cuts from the 1980 Olympic Team, which didn’t play in Moscow because of the Western boycott.

And back in 2003, Baxter returned to Lehigh to coach the varsity team, even as she and Patterson were coaching the Eden Prairie club program.

Now, it seems, both will be turning their attention to their boys, who also play lacrosse in Minnesota. Somehow, I think they’ll be well-prepared every game, just like the girls’ teams over the years.

Sept. 2, 2019 — A bit of a memoir on Year 22

This week begins our 22nd year of this site, one which tries to bring context, perspective, and a bit of controversy in the field hockey and lacrosse communities nationwide.

Today, I want to expand on what we posted on Instagram last Saturday, when we talked about The College of New Jersey’s head coach, Sharon Pfluger.

To me, she’s one of the greatest coaches of all time, in any level, for any sport. But it is not just because of the championships, the number of wins, the number of seasons she has coached, or the number of All-Americans she has coached.

The reason for her greatness, I think, is the fact that she has maintained a consistent excellence in both field hockey and women’s lacrosse as both games have changed radically over the last three and a half decades.

If you find a VHS tape of a women’s lacrosse or field hockey game from the early 1980s, when Pfluger started her coaching career, you might not recognize either sport.

In lacrosse, you won’t see a possession clock, and the field won’t have a hard boundary. The players all have traditional mulberry sticks, and there are no restraining lines. In addition, you don’t have the additional spot at the goal line where some behind-the-cage fouls are restarted, and you don’t have the hashmark halfway down the fan to keep defenders from taking space close to goal on free position shots.

In field hockey, the obstruction rule is tightly called, the game is almost invariably played on grass, goalies are wearing cane leggings and leather kickers fit over soccer shoes, and the offside rule is in force.

And you won’t find a self-start anywhere.

It’s almost like Pfluger has coached upwards of six different sports in her 70 seasons at The College of New Jersey. You can argue that these six sports represented different eras of the game:

  • Women’s lacrosse Unbounded Era (1923-1997): No boundary, no restraining lines, and teams would customarily bring forward seven, maybe eight attackers into the attack, sometimes sending the third man on a delayed basis in order to create an unbalanced situation
  • Women’s lacrosse 7-v-7 Era (1998-2016): The restraining line and hard boundaries are introduced to make it more like the men’s game, plus the addition of the offset stick makes passing and shooting quicker and more accurate than ever before
  • Women’s lacrosse Go Era (2016 to present): The 90-second possession clock, the self-start, and free movement make the game one of speed rather than tactics and possession
  • Field hockey Grass Era (1901-1994): Goalies with cane leg guards and leather kickers, conservative interpretation of what constitutes obstruction, and wooden sticks
  • Field hockey Turf Era (1995-2015): The introduction of water-based turf at almost every Division I university as well as the elimination of offside forces many changes in tactics, including getting goalkeepers to wear foam pads to create deep rebounds. It was also during this time when the aluminum field hockey stick was first introduced, and there were also some interestingly-shaped sticks for goalkeepers and for drag-flickers
  • Field hockey Go Era (2016-present): The self-start, space-age composite sticks, changes in the long-hit rule (moving from a hashmark near the corner flag to the 23-meter stripe), as well as the widespread availability of rubber-infill turf turns the game into a speed game

The changes in both field hockey and lacrosse are so much more radical than those of other U.S. college sports. It can spawn thought experiments as to how well, for example, Paul “Bear” Bryant would have done coaching against football teams running the jet sweep. Or how well Henry Iba would have done coaching basketball with a shot clock and a three-point line.

Aug. 23, 2019 — The next college sport network, trying to find its niche

Last night, at 7 p.m. Eastern, the ACC Network signed on.

The ESPN-backed network has been seen as a revenue stream for the schools that make up the Atlantic Coast Conference, and as a way to compete with other major conferences with sports networks such as the Pac-12 and Big Ten.

Since most ACC schools have only started practice recently, there’s precious little in the way of actual games to be broadcast. And what does a network like that do? Well, it starts off with a football talk show and a “cinema verite” documentary on a critical juncture in the career of Mike Krzyzewski’s career, when he was able to piece together a championship team with the likes of Tommy Amaker, Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie, and Jay Bilas.

Looking ahead on our digital TV provider, it looks like the first game to be broadcast is in about three or four days, a women’s soccer game.

But I wonder, given ESPN’s penchant for obfuscating and marginalizing women’s sports on its major network, if the ACC Network is committed to women’s athletics, including field hockey and women’s lacrosse. These are two sports that the ACC is very good at, and almost swept both titles in the last academic year.

Too, the ACC is going to be showing off incredible, dynamic women athletes such as Erin Matson and Charlotte De Vries in field hockey, and Caitlyn Wurzburger and Izzy Smith in women’s lacrosse. And I hope the network is able to showcase these fine players and their teams in a better format than before.

Given the fact that the network is only having three conference field hockey games shown on the network this year, it is not a promising start.