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African-American field hockey team finds inspiration in Caucasian teammate

Dec. 07, 2015, 4:38 p.m. (ET)

Courtesy of Louis Bolling of the Philadelphia Tribune

West Philadelphia-based Eyekonz Field Hockey is about developing and strengthening all girls interested in the sport. Recognized as the country’s only African-American field hockey team, Eyekonz is more than a team to one of its student-athletes.

“There’s something special about Margret and I knew it when she first came to the field,” explained Jazmine Smith, founding coach of Eyekonz Field Hockey League. “She had a determination about her as she played around with the ball when she first started. I wasn’t aware of what she and her mother were dealing with. She [Margret] didn’t act out with aggression or misbehave as you might think she would considering her circumstances.”

The circumstances were that Margret Stewart, 11, was introduced to field hockey through instructional programming offered by Smith and her coaching staff.

This past summer, at Sheppard Recreation Center, Stewart trained with her peers, displaying the same passion and interest in the game as her teammates. She enjoyed learning the game, playing with her teammates, listened well and did her best to put into action what she was coached to do.

Stewart gleefully played about while being the only Caucasian girl on the team and had been homeless for the past two years.

“We had a situation during the summer that confirmed why I do what I do,” Smith said. “With the other coaches, we had to figure out how to assist Margret and [her mother] Sharon during an emergency situation that was made more complicated due to their circumstances. This was the day before we were going to celebrate Olympic Day. Margret and I got a chance to spend more time together as a result and I learned more about where that determination in her comes from.

“Margret looks at the team as her family,” stated Margret’s mother, Sharon Gaskins. “I say that because I thought I would see more aggression come out of her while she played. It never did.”

Impressed with Stewart’s dedication, focus and drive to succeed in spite of the odds, Smith nominated her as a candidate for the Philadelphia 76ers Strong Kid of the Game Award.

Presented during a 76ers game, the award recognizes a young person that defies the odds, represents perseverance and determination, and is inspirational.

Stewart was honored and presented the award last week, her teammates cheering her on courtesy of tickets from the Philadelphia Youth Advocate Program.

“Le’Loft Hair Salon treated Margret and Sharon with hair styling before the game and some of the girls got a chance to celebrate and attend the game with her,” Smith said. “It was a great night.”

Smith spoke of Margret as an example of how Eyekonz Field Hockey is impacting girls on and off the field.

“I was pleasantly surprised when the Sixers reached out to inform me Margret was receiving the award,” she said. “But, I wasn’t shocked knowing that she embodies all that the award stands for and is a testament to the power of sport and how we work with our girls. We are a family.”

Natasha Charles is a parent member of the Eyekonz family. “Jazmine goes above and beyond for the girls. She is so much more than a coach,” Charles stated.

“Margret is awesome! She’s such a leader and has been through so much in her life, yet she gives 110 percent on the field every time. We are blessed and fortunate to have them both, coach Jazmine and Margret.”

Recently, the fortunes of Stewart and Gaskins changed when they moved into a new home. As she makes adjustments, Stewart and her teammates have been competing, throughout the Greater Philadelphia area, against formidable youth field hockey programs. Stewart has continued to be a spark and bright light during these times.

“She always loves giving hugs, it never mattered who or what you are. She just sees a person,” Gaskins said of her daughter. “I am proud of her, not just for getting an award, but for the two and a half years of being in a shelter and not losing that loving spirit.”

Photo courtesy of Jazmine Smith