October 19, 2017 // 11:02 AM
Field Hockey: Like Watching Grass Grow
Written by Art Petrosemolo
I worked in college athletics for several years in the 1970s-80s, including six-plus years at Dartmouth in the Ivy League. It was one of the highlights of my working career as after my high school academic career, going to Dartmouth was not in the cards! I did smarten up, however, as I got older.
You know field hockey even if you don’t know it. Your granddaughter (not your grandson) played it in grade school, at camp and maybe even in high school. When Title 9 took hold in the 1970s, suddenly women’s field hockey was added at Division 1, 2 and 3 colleges and universities and, with exception of basketball, it is probably the most popular women’s sport.
Field hockey is played on the international scene and is an Olympic sport for both men and women. In the United States, field hockey is hugely popular with girls of all ages, but has no following (other than dads) as a spectator sport for men. It may be played as a men’s sport on a club level in the U.S., but certainly not anyplace I have lived or worked.
Well, back to the game.
At Dartmouth, football was king whether it was in-season or out and despite dozens of other men’s and women’s teams competing. It kept me, as sports information director, busy. One of the sports was women’s field hockey. The coach was Mary Corrigan, a young, energetic Irish native who coached in Hanover for about a dozen years and won two Ivy League titles.
Field hockey was big in Ireland, and probably still is, but she was butting heads with the football gods at a school that had been all male for 200+ years until women arrived in 1976. She had her work cut out for her.
My job at Dartmouth was to promote all sports - men and women. However, in reality, in the fall it was football, in the winter it was men’s hockey and maybe women’s basketball (the men’s basketball team at Dartmouth was terrible and still is) and in the spring, it was baseball and maybe lacrosse and then we would get ready for football again.
No joke, that’s what the media wanted to know about. I had one assistant, Kathy Slattery, who succeeded me in 1983 and 25 years later, still on the job, she contracted a brain embolism after a football game and died two days later in her early fifties with a new husband and two small children…. That sadly is another story and a very sad one.
So back to field hockey.
The game has been around in some form since the Greeks and was popular in the Middle Ages in Scotland, France and the Netherlands. The game is played with 11 players, including a goalie, and has a strange rule that only allows the hard, plastic ball (don’t catch it in the knee or you’ll know it) to be touched or struck on one side of the stick….no one has ever explained the why to me.
The game is played on grass or an artificial surface 100 yards long and about 60 yards wide. There isn’t much standing around as the ball moves quickly over the ground and in the air as teams advance it toward the goal. For me, one of the most exciting parts of the game is a penalty corner when there is an infraction (I don’t understand those either). The ball is struck by an offensive player toward a group of players facing the goal. On defense is the goalie, heavily protected, and several players who quickly put on pads and get to run out toward the offensive players to help stop the shot on goal. It can get messy.
I’ve gotten a little sidetracked here. Where I was heading about 600 words ago was to tell you when I was at Dartmouth I always angered Mary Corrigan because I told her the game - played in the fall - was as exciting as watching grass grow. I think I picked that up from the athletic director or some of the men’s coaches. I wasn’t that original back then. And, ironically, letting the grass grow to slow down the ball was just what Coach Corrigan would do when she played a faster team.
Anyway, she never liked my “grass” comments and let me know about it. And she always complained I didn’t give her team enough publicity. It was hard, as football was king at Dartmouth and that’s what the press wanted to know about.
So, today, in 2017, I want to publicly take those “watching grass grow” comments back as in early August I photographed the USA national team play Chile at the Pan American Cup being sponsored by USA Field Hockey at the Spooky Nook sports complex. Well, at least on a synthetic field, with big, athletic guys playing it, field hockey is a much faster game and judging by the languages spoken in the stands, very popular internationally.
So, Mary, wherever you are, retired or coaching, I want to formally apologize. Field hockey has come of age and is pretty exciting. But I still don’t think it will outdraw the football team if they play on the same Saturday this fall in Hanover.