For over a year now, Growing the Greatest Game (GGG) has been battling more than just a pandemic: tentative public facility schedules, beleaguered college coaches and gathering restrictions. The pandemic brought many of us opportunities to rest and reflect, but our team’s respite led to a complete review, remix and revitalization of current field hockey growth and sustainability models. We realized that the true strength lies in the local community. After creating a model setting clear goals, we reached out to our field hockey community to immense support and encouragement. To date, we have raised over $5,000, received hundreds of donated equipment items and started or received verbal commitments toward several grassroots sites. These sites are a mainstay of the initiative; they have been our biggest hurdle yet our biggest triumph as well.
Our largest partner, The Ethel Walker School in Simsbury, Conn. will host a summer series through the Horizons program that impacts approximately 130 athletes. The Horizons program is an award-winning, tuition free enrichment program that partners with independent charter and private schools to provide students with access and opportunities that are often unavailable due to other factors. In late summer 2020, a warm-hearted and galvanized Mimi Duran, Ethel Walker’s head coach, approached our leadership team with a full plan to host 130 girls. Excitedly, we coordinated with her and Executive Director of Horizons at Ethel Walker School, Princess Hyatt, to ship 130 balls, cones and sticks to them, giving every girl her own stick and ball thanks to generous equipment donations from USA Field Hockey and Penn Monto. Mimi offered her team up as coaches, and HTC Field Hockey Club (CT) agreed to serve as the club pipeline. The club partnership will allow players to continue in the sport competitively while paving the way for athletes to play in college, such as any of the nearby institutions.
After achieving initial success with the first Horizons site, Hyatt connected GGG with the colleague and Executive Direcot of Horizons at The Foote School, Kelonda Maull, in New Haven, Conn. The summer session at this site is about an hour south of Simsbury. Combined, both sites will reach upwards of 175 athletes with The Foote School providing male participation. Currently, 16 boys and 16 girls are registered with numbers expected to increase in the coming months. Partnering with the Horizons programs and The Ethel Walker School is the momentum we desired. In the end, our mission to advance field hockey through diversity and inclusion only works if we can positively impact the next generation of multicultural field hockey players. Further still, we can only sustain that achievement if athletes remain in the sport even as young adults and adults which translates into playing, coaching and officiating collegiate field hockey. Thankfully, Connecticut boasts 14 Division I, II and III programs including five-time national champion, the University of Connecticut Huskies. Connecticut’s small size offers great proximity to each division of NCAA play giving athletes a glimpse into the student-athlete’s life at every stage. Division I representation includes Connecticut, Yale and Quinnipiac; Division II play comprises of Southern Connecticut State and New Haven, and the myriad of Division III schools include Albertus Magnus, Western Connecticut State and Wesleyan University among others. Ultimately, these collegiate connections will offer participants at both sites a chance to attend college games, meet athletes and envision themselves participating in the sport at the next level.
As of now, GGG has two functioning sites scheduled to begin in June 2021 with several more beginning in the near future. Teams like Catholic, Columbia, Johns Hopkins and Shippensburg have already confirmed their partnerships and await COVID-19 restrictions and school policies to allow play. Community partners and clubs like Aim Field Hockey Club (St. Louis, Mo, Play College Field Hockey (Phoebe Hopkins) and the So Sports Foundation’s work with the City of Portsmouth’s Parks and Recreation department (Portsmouth, Va.) will also runs sites in the coming months. We even have a virtual series that began in March thanks to the ingenuity of Vital Hockey’s founder Adam Falla who proposed the idea himself. He ran a short series for high schoolers and will run a second series to reach even more athletes.
USA Field Hockey continues to support GGG through publicity, donations, exposure at events and more. Experiencing this immense support from the entire field hockey community has been overwhelmingly encouraging. We have hit many setbacks, but our triumphs have been greater and the impact long lasting. This is only the beginning for GGG with our ultimate goal of self-sustaining sites within the next five years. The groundwork is being laid, seeds planted and so many people have contributed in various ways.
All of your help is greatly appreciated as we work to amplify this sport and invite others from a multitude of backgrounds and experiences. We welcome support at any level through equipment donations, volunteering at site, or monetary support. Find us at USA Field Hockey’s National Events this summer in Virginia Beach, Va. and at a few of The Line Up events (Sport EuroTour). Learn more about Growing the Greatest Game by visiting our website or emailing our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.