Photo Courtesy of Stanford Athletics & Lyndsay Radnedge/isiphotos.com
On July 8, 2020, Stanford University announced plans to cut their varsity field hockey program, along with 10 other nationally ranked, Olympian-producing teams, citing “no pathway to excellence” or other viable financial solutions to support them. This decision impacted 22 current field hockey student-athletes, including U.S. Women’s National Team members Kelsey Bing and Corinne Zanolli, as well as coaches and recruits with aspirations to play for the Cardinal. The decision also impacted more than 400 Stanford alumni including Alison Smith and Melissa Weiss, both active U.S. Masters players who competed in the 2018 EXIN Masters World Cup in Teressa, Spain. Smith and Weiss are collaborating with other alumni to restore field hockey at Stanford and have provided a glimmer of hope for the possible reinstatement of the program.
When the news broke last July, Smith was shocked by Stanford’s decision.
“Stanford never asked for help and this decision blind-sided everyone,” noted Smith, who is also a former U-21 USWNT athlete. “In addition to upending the lives of the current team and staff, this decision erased a 117-year history of field hockey tradition and national excellence. Furthermore, it threatens the future existence of all West Coast field hockey at the high school, club and collegiate levels. We want to preserve this scholar-athlete experience as well as the lifelong impact the sport has on our leadership and resilience in our personal, professional and community lives.”
Presently, Stanford alumni are mobilizing more than 400 former teammates with targeted outreach to university decision-makers, sustained public pressure from a growing coalition of field hockey allies across the country and a $20 million fundraising campaign, in hopes that an endowment will lead to reinstatement.
“This is about more than Stanford,” added Weiss. “Field hockey is a family and when one program is impacted, it weakens our entire sport across the country. Stanford, the University of California Berkeley and University of California Davis are critical Division I anchors on the West Coast. Growing up in southern California, I have witnessed the efforts to strengthen and spread West Coast [field] hockey and want to see it flourish.”
Another part of the reinstatement strategy has been collaborating with the other 10 programs that were cut, as well as representatives from all 36 varsity sports programs, to engage Stanford’s President and Board of Trustees in a problem-solving dialogue. 36 Sports Strong formed and issued an open letter signed by alumni who are Olympians, current and former professional athletes and Hall of Famers urging the university to reconsider.
USA Field Hockey applauds the leadership efforts of Smith and Weiss and recognizes that current athletes, parents and alumni have the most powerful voice in collegiate decision-making. USA Field Hockey has been continuously working to sustain and grow college field hockey, recognizing the important position this level of the game has in the overall landscape of the sport.
“With the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games around the corner, we have an opportunity to grow the game, not see it shrink,” urged Simon Hoskins, USA Field Hockey’s Executive Director. “With help from our field hockey family, we have to protect every program that might come under threat amidst the current health, financial, political and social challenges we face, preserving every opportunity to play and compete. We were terribly disappointed by Stanford’s sudden decision to drop field hockey. College field hockey plays an important role in the overall field hockey landscape, and Stanford’s program was one of the finest. Stanford developed national team players and hosted international competitions as recently as 2018. Stanford was a pillar of field hockey on the West Coast and we would love to see the program reinstated.”
When asked how the field hockey community can help Stanford’s reinstatement efforts, Smith stated, “As with any advocacy effort, please speak up and give. We need to sustain the pressure by contacting Stanford leadership and demonstrating our support for the program through endowment pledges. Every email and every dollar count.”
Weiss added, “We are grateful for every gesture and are ready to return the favor. Now more than ever, we need to stick together.”
For more information about efforts to reinstate Stanford Field Hockey and to make a donation, go to SaveStanfordFieldHockey.com, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. There are a lot of ways to get involved and help save Stanford Field Hockey. Click here to see how to help.
“Stanford’s dropping their field hockey program was extremely painful, obviously devastating to those directly impacted, including the Stanford and greater West Coast field hockey community, as well as to the entire field hockey family,” continued Sally Goggin, USA Field Hockey’s National Development Director. “Alison and Melissa are perfect examples of the impact and power alumni voices can have on administrative decisions.”
Recognizing vulnerability in the college space, USA Field Hockey started working to sustain and grow college field hockey a few years ago. In 2019, USA Field Hockey received a grant from the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and worked with Sarah Wilhelmi, USOPC Director of Collegiate Relations, to form a College Advocacy Group. USA Field Hockey hired consultant Marlene Bjornsrud to lead the committee discussions and develop an action plan.
“One thing we learned is that sports that are invisible are vulnerable,” said Goggin. “Our sport needs to toot our own horn, promote the amazing things our players, coaches, umpires and stakeholders do in our world on and off the field.”
This understanding and additional learning and recommendations from the Advocacy Group were presented to college coaches in January 2020. At the same time, USA Field Hockey began taking action behind the scenes when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic encompassed the world, sidelining play and disrupting schools and sports across all levels. More than 121 collegiate sports programs have been dropped since the beginning of the pandemic, including two field hockey programs: Stanford and Becker University in Worcester, Mass. Nineteen of those programs have been reinstated.
Becker’s program competes at the Division III level and was extremely successful having won four national championships and more than 18 divisional titles. At this time, USA Field Hockey is not aware of Becker alumnae discussions.
In an effort to update the entire field hockey community on the collegiate outlooks and the Stanford situation, USA Field Hockey will be hosting the free “Protecting and Preserving College Field Hockey" webinar on Tuesday, February 2, 2021 from 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. ET. All individuals interested in learning more about protecting and preserving field hockey at the collegiate level, and specifically Stanford, are welcome to attend. USA Field Hockey will provide a brief update on the collegiate landscape; Smith, Weiss and their leadership team will share their learnings and recommendations from their work to date to reinstate Stanford, much of which can be applied at other institutions. USA Field Hockey will conclude the webinar with an introduction of the California State Chapter leadership team who is eager to help reinstate Stanford Field Hockey and grow the game in California.
For questions, please contact Sally Goggin, USA Field Hockey’s National Development Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.