USA Field Hockey is beginning the effort at a time when excitement is growing for a sport similar to ice hockey but played on grass or artificial turf. In June, the Women's National Team, chock full of local players, finished fourth at the Rabobank Hockey World Cup in The Hague, Netherlands.
At Victory Field in Plymouth Township, athletes Torrie Albini, 28, who retired this year from the National Team, and Meghan Beamesderfer, 26, drilled 14 campers, ages 9 to 13, as they scooted across the turf maneuvering their hockey sticks in a series of exercises.
Beamesderfer and Albini live in Lancaster. Last year, the U.S. National Team moved from California to Manheim, Lancaster County, to train at the Spooky Nook Sports facility in what is a regional hotbed for the sport.
While field hockey is primarily a female pursuit in the United States, men dominate in other parts of the world where the sport is extremely popular, including India, Pakistan, and parts of Europe.
Last month, the PIAA restricted boys' participation on mostly girls' teams in what officials say is an effort to encourage the growth of all-boys teams and expand playing opportunities for girls.
USA Field Hockey hopes to help raise awareness of the sport and cement allegiance among the young - and younger.
"A lot of our youth get involved in [field hockey] in high school or junior high," said Laura Darling of Moorestown, USA Field Hockey's former National Development Director. "You look at soccer and see 5-year-olds running around playing. And soccer has leagues all over. We are starting to develop some leagues."
Slagle, whose Colonial Club is affiliated with USA Field Hockey, founded the group five years ago when her daughter had no local group with which to play.
Parents are leaning toward picking one sport for their children instead of multiple ones as in the past, said Marianne Paparone, longtime field hockey coach at Plymouth-Whitemarsh.
"They pick it early," Paparone said, "and if they don't pick field hockey, [the sport] gets shortchanged."
On the field, camper Pentz, 13, ran drills with fellow players including Hailey Copestick, 10, whose grandfather Frank watched from the bleachers.
"I didn't even know anything about field hockey until my granddaughter started playing," said Frank Copestick, of Plymouth.
After a few morning hockey exercises, Hailey said she "loves the sport" and thinks others would agree.
"If they just knew more people who played," Hailey said, "then maybe they would want to play, too."
With that, the Colonial Elementary fifth grader snapped in her mouth guard, grabbed her stick, and sprinted toward the action.
By Kristin E. Holmes, Inquirer Staff Writer