By Charlie M Holmes
---- — Field hockey sends a greater portion of its athletes to college on scholarships than any other sport. It had the third highest number of spectators of all the competitions at the 2012 London Olympics, and is the third most popular sport in the world, according to the websites for the United States Olympic Committee and Most Popular Sports.
Emma Watson, who portrayed Hermione Granger in all eight “Harry Potter” films, is an avid player, and so was the late Heath Ledger, who played the Joker in the 2008 blockbuster movie “The Dark Knight.”
Despite that, in the United States, field hockey is struggling and Cooperstown Central School District which used to defy the odds where field hockey was concerned, is feeling the effect.
“We need to build the field hockey back to where it used to be,” CCS Athletic Director Monica Wolfe said after last Thursday’s game. “I remember back in high school we played Cooperstown. They had a very strong team.”
This year CCS does not have a junior varsity or varsity team because of lack of players. The school came very close to cutting the modified team for this year, too.
“If we don’t have enough girls to field a team, then it’s not practical to advance to the next level, which would be JV or varsity,” CCS Superintendent C.J. Hebert explained. “If there aren’t enough girls to fill out a modified team, I’m not sure where we would garner more interest because that’s where the participation levels come from — the girls who are already participating in the program.”
Hebert said the lack of participation in field hockey was probably a direct result of the enrollment decreasing at CCS.
“There are fewer students,” Hebert said. “This district 10 years ago had 1,200 students. We’re down to 900 at this point.”
Hebert said that the board evaluates whether a sport will remain when it begins discussing the budget, which is typically around February.
“Today we only had nine (players),” Cheryl Rock, who coaches the team along with Brenda Wedderspoon-Gray, said, “but a lot of other teams are in the same predicament, like Ilion. We’ve played some teams with double the amount (of players).”
“We barely have enough to field a team every week,” Monica Carrascoso said. “We play against teams that have five, six subs.”
Carrascoso’s daughter, Bella, is the goalie for the modified team this year, but may not have the chance to play field hockey next year. Bella is in ninth grade, which means her age may make her ineligible to play modified next year.
“It’s so important at this age for all the girls to have an opportunity to play a sport they’re interested in,” Bassett’s Children’s Sports Medicine Institute Director Dr. Tally Lassiter said. “As Title IX showed, once you give the girls the opportunity to participate, once you give them the expectation to be athletic and (to demonstrate) leadership and teamwork, the girls take advantage of it. Otherwise, they’ve been trained not to.”
Lassiter’s daughter is also on Cooperstown’s modified field hockey team.
“Girls are shown, from a public health aspect, (to) drop out of healthy activities early on,” Lassiter said. “If they don’t play in high school, they don’t play in college. They don’t stay active.”
Field hockey’s struggle to survive in the United States is due in part to our lack of education about the game, according to iSport.com.
“I didn’t know anything about field hockey until last year,” Lassiter said. “I’d never seen a game of it.”
That lack of education has also perpetuated myths about the game that have been an impediment to its growth. The rumors have become such a problem that iSport.com has devoted a page of its website to dispelling myths such as: only girls play field hockey, it’s like lacrosse and it’s dangerous.
According to the site, the gender of players who participate in field hockey is equally divided in other countries. Rock said that years ago Cooperstown even had a male player.
“Her dad played a long time ago,” Rock said indicating one of the current players, Mary Iversen. “He was the only male, I think, to play for Cooperstown. It’s kind of a neat thing. He’s a music teacher here.”
iSport.com speculated that the reason people think field hockey and lacrosse are similar is because both involve a stick and a ball. The site went on to say that, “In lacrosse, the ball is played in the air, it is a contact sport, and the ball is allowed behind the goal. None of these rules apply to field hockey.”
“I treat injuries,” Lassiter said. “We haven’t seen a field hockey player yet for a serious injury. They get their hands bruised with the stick, but it’s a lot less dangerous than soccer for their knees, ankles. It’s a lot less dangerous than football, and it’s less dangerous than cheerleading. Cheerleading, at the college level, is the most dangerous sport in America because the girls get thrown up in the air and they break their necks.”
The girls who are on this year’s team admitted that part of the reason Cooperstown has lost players is because in recent years, they weren’t known for their winning record. That’s not the case this year.
“They’ve done really, really well,” Rock said when asked about how the team was doing this season. “At the modified level, we’re not supposed to report their record and scores and stuff, but they’ve done really well.”
The number of girls on the team may be small, but their enthusiasm for the game is huge. When the group found out their sport was in jeopardy, they didn’t just let it happen — they went to the board and fought for it.
“Jasmine Martinez wrote the most beautiful speech that she then gave to the board about how field hockey was such a passion for her,” Carrascoco said.
“I’ve been playing it for three years, and it’s kind of like the only sport I like to play besides track,” Martinez said when asked why she was compelled to try to dissuade the board from dispensing with the sport.
“I want to give these girls a lot of credit,” Rock said. “It’s hard for us as coaches, knowing we’re not getting the numbers, but they really, really wanted to play field hockey. That’s what’s really exciting. They didn’t let anything get in their way. They could have let this discourage them, but they didn’t.”
Rock and Wedderspoon-Gray aim to help keep field hockey alive in Cooperstown by forming a club so younger kids can learn about the game, but need adult volunteers to make the club a reality.
Those people who are interested in donating their time toward the effort should email Cheryl Rock at email@example.com.