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Field Hockey Coaches See Strength, Vitality Growing in Sport

Castleton, Vt. — There was a time when there was a concern for the future of field hockey on high school campuses.

There was a time when it looked like the sport on the high school level might not even survive in New Hampshire and Vermont.

What put the sport in jeopardy was the 1972 passage of the Title IX provision that deemed athletes of both sexes should get equal athletic opportunities and equal funding. While the law had a wide range of the positive effects, it appeared that it could have meant the demise of field hockey because the girls were suddenly going to be given the chance to play soccer as well as field hockey in the fall.

The feeling at the time was that the majority of the female athletes would prefer soccer. While there was a period when some schools dropped field hockey for soccer — Thetford, Whitcomb, Oxbow in the Upper Valley — after a down spell, the sport bounced back to assume a solid participation rate as a fall activity.

That success was in evidence last night when the Twin State Field Hockey Classic took to the field at Castleton State College. It was the 32nd consecutive year the classic has been held.

The two head coaches of the New Hampshire team, Patty Deschaine of Stevens and Kim Tenney of Merrimack Valley, believe the sport does not need a whole lot of tinkering to remain popular, both agree the sport is still vibrant and competitive.

If there is one area of concern for the veteran coaches, it is the distance players stand from an opponent’s free hit. The rule used to allow the defenders to stand seven yards away, but it was changed in recent years to just five yards, and that may be a bit too close.

“If I have scouted a team and I know they have a hard hitter, I have my girls back off more than the five yards,” said Tenney, who is in her 20th year as head coach at Merrimack Valley.

“I agree with that,” said Deschaine. “Safety is a huge factor and sometimes those direct hits are scary.”

When the teams take to the field tonight they will be playing 35 minute halves as opposed to the 30-minute halves the high school teams play during the regular season. While neither coach is opposed to the extended halves for the all-star contest they still like the half-hour halves during the regular season.

“I know there is some concern that our games are too short, but I don’t think so,” said Tenney. “I also especially like our seven-on-seven setup for the overtime. I never did like penalty strokes to decide a game.”

When asked what changes could be made to help the sport, one of the areas the coaches pointed to was about judgment calls where officials have trouble consistently determining whether a shot is too high.

“I guess I’d like to see a more uniform calling on the high hit,” said Tenney. Deschaine agreed.

“Not all officials call it the same way,” she said.

Deschaine, heading for her 10th year as the Stevens head coach after being an All-American at St. Michael’s College, added, “But again, the officials are just thinking about safety and they do a good job in a sport that is hard to officiate.

“Do they make mistakes, sure, but don’t we all make mistakes?”

Deschaine’s daughter, Jenna, is a defender on the New Hampshire team. Lebanon’s Brooke Whitaker is also on the New Hampshire roster.

Hartford coach Heather Scudder is on the Vermont coaching staff.

New Hampshire holds a 19-9-3 edge in the series.