GILBERT, Ariz. - February 28, 2019 - Conway is a small city in central Arkansas typically known for its love of football and sport fishing. It is home to three colleges and temperatures that average in the 60s. It is a region that probably thinks of “ice” when you mention hockey and wouldn’t know the difference between the flat and round side of a stick, aside from the fact that, well, one side is flat and one is round.
But a group of field hockey players is working hard to change that.
For the last two years, members of the field hockey program at Hendrix College have been devoting themselves to growing the game in central Arkansas.
With the help of a USA Field Hockey FUNdamental Field Hockey Grant, the team has been introducing the sport to hundreds of elementary school students in Faulkner County. During the spring semester, from 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. every school day, the Hendrix players teach field hockey to physical education classes at eight surrounding elementary schools. The players have designed an elaborate schedule that allows them to cover each grades’ physical education class for two weeks before moving on to another school. To culminate their semester of teaching, they also organize a free spring clinic for the local community, where participants are able to play competitive games on Hendrix’s dedicated field hockey pitch.
Their inspiration to spread field hockey is fueled by their love for the sport, but also by sense of duty instilled in them by their coach, Rebecca Begley.
Begley just finished her sixth season as the head coach at Hendrix College where she is also the Senior Woman Administrator. When she applied for the position, Begley felt that as a new program trying to establish itself in an area devoid of field hockey, Hendrix would need a steady presence and a leader with vision.
Her philosophy at Hendrix has been to give more than you take, and her players have completely embraced that mantra.
The Hendrix student-athletes balance nearly 800 hours of service with school, practice and games. “My players are all on-board and subscribe to the philosophy of ‘being a part of something bigger than themselves.’ We get to use field hockey as a vehicle to educate women and see the county,” said Begley. “To watch them teach the sport they love to children in a state where it doesn’t exist in high school or at other colleges, is inspiring.”
Begley is quick to note that the grow-the-game undertaking was completely student-initiated - Holly Heeb, a recently-graduated midfielder applied for the USA Field Hockey FUNdamental Field Hockey Grant and organized the program last year, and this year her shoes were filled by junior defender, Sophie Marrazo.
“A few years ago, someone told me that ‘playing field hockey in Arkansas will never get you anywhere in life’ and that continued to drive me every single day," remarked Heeb. "I had always dreamed of creating opportunities for kids to play field hockey in an area where it was not known, and there was no better place to start than in Arkansas. I was determined to create a future for kids to play a sport that we all love so much and that has taught us so much - no matter where we play or learned to play.”
The Hendrix field hockey players have taken it upon themselves to do the tireless work of growing the game, but they are not alone - Begley and the administration at Hendrix College have also picked up the mantel and will be bringing one of field hockey’s biggest stages to Conway. The NCAA Division III National Championship will be hosted at Hendrix College in 2021.
Hendrix College is leading the charge in establishing field hockey in the south - when they founded the program ten years ago, they saw potential and it’s beginning to pay off. Last year, the Hendrix field hockey team hosted 33 clinics and put a field hockey stick in the hands of 640 elementary school students. This year, they have organized 64 field hockey clinics and will introduce the sport to at least 1,167 kids. The Hendrix field hockey team is making an impact on their Conway community, positively representing Hendrix College and doing a great service to the sport of field hockey.
Their clinics - and those numbers - would not be possible without the support of Hendrix College, who’s visionary decision empowered the young women on Hendrix’s roster to devote themselves to the cause of growing the game. Nor, without the hundreds of sticks and balls that were provided to the players through the USA Field Hockey FUNdamental Field Hockey Grant.
“There is no greater reward than the kids picking up the sport you introduced them to. I’ve had teachers tell me that their students went home and had their parents buy them a stick so they can play in the backyard or even in the living room. Or if I am walking down the hallway and a student comes up to me, gives me a hug and says they can’t wait until their next P.E. class, that’s why I do it. They leave an impact on me, just as much as I leave one on them!” - Sophie Mazzaro
The Hendrix team’s hope is that their dedicated grassroots efforts will lead to an engaged and enthusiastic fanbase during the NCAA Field Hockey Championship - and they are exploring ways to involve Conway’s newest field hockey enthusiasts in the championship weekend.
The 2021 NCAA Field Hockey Championship will be the first national championship, of any sport, in any division, to be played in the state of Arkansas. Beyond the intangible imprint that the Hendrix players are making on the Faulkner County community, the NCAA tournament will bring an economic boost to the area as well as important exposure to a promising field hockey region.
The National Championship will bring visitors to Conway who would not otherwise venture to the “City of Colleges.” The National Championship tournament is not only an event that showcases the highest-level NCAA talent, it also allows fans, student-athletes and parents to appreciate a new part of the country, explore a new campus and - in this case - appreciate all that Conway, Arkansas and Hendrix College have to offer.
Establishing an environment where field hockey can thrive is not an easy task. But trailblazers have started on less. Holly, Sophie and their teammates have a positive attitude and seemingly endless energy that, coupled with a dedicated mentor, belief from the administration at Hendrix College and material support from USA Field Hockey, will make the seeds that they are sowing in Conway bloom.