When the St. Francis field hockey team closed the book on the 2012 season, they had made school history: doubling their previous win record and capturing a share of the Northeast Conference regular-season championship. But the squad is not resting on its laurels; it's launching a local effort to build a following for field hockey among young athletes.
Carissa Makea, a sophomore from New Zealand, knows very well the popularity of field hockey in other parts of the world, having started playing herself at the age of five. Wanting to share that experience with American kids, she submitted and was awarded a national grant from Team USA for a new initiative called FUNdamental Field Hockey. The youth development program is designed to expose children to physical activity and the popular international sport.
"I'd like children here to be able to start at a younger age like I did because it opens a variety of opportunities for them," said Makea. "I know I wouldn't be here if I didn't play field hockey."
Head coach Stacey Bean, who just completed her fifth season at the helm of the program, knows the difference that Makea's talent and spirit have made for her team, thanks in large part to an early introduction to the sport in her homeland.
"She is creative as a player, and sees the game differently, and it's neat to coach a player like that," said Bean. "She's fun-loving and good natured and wants to try something new all the time she's a great example. "
It's that talent, creativity and love of the game that Makea and her teammates hope to pass on as they launch the FUNdamental program locally. Seniors Kellie Mason and Kate Rossman, both student teachers at Central Cambria Middle School, received the administration's blessing to host their first clinic there today.
Overwhelmed by the response, the Flash have registered at total of 100 sixth and seventh graders for the instructional sessions, far exceeding their goal of 24 students (the number of sticks provided through their grant).
"We want to show them that field hockey is a fun, exciting sport that offers some unique challenges with the rules," said coach Bean. "Unlike ice hockey, you can only use one side of the stick and you can't use your feet unless you're the goalie, things like that."
Bean recognizes that generating enough interest in field hockey to spark more high school programs in the region will be an uphill battle, much like trying to start a campfire in the wind with a single match. But the St. Francis passion burns bright; and the team hopes the community will warm up to the sport by visiting a clinic, camp or Red Flash varsity game.
"Like a lot of things in life, somebody has to start somewhere," she said. "Sport in general just teaches so many valuable lessons we'd love to start it, and generate some interest in field hockey, and educate people about what a cool sport it is and hope that it catches on."
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at email@example.com. Her column appears on Tuesdays.