Field hockey in her veins Aparna Wilder: The Park School senior's mother, Rani, played the sport in India and one of her grandmothers played on Wheaton College (Mass.)'s unbeaten 1941 team.

October 19, 1997|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

Aparna Wilder began playing field hockey because it was the only sport offered in the fifth grade at Park School, but her connection to the game runs deep.

Field hockey is part of her heritage -- on both sides of the family.

Her mother Rani Wilder grew up in Bombay where the game's popularity rivals that of football in this country. She started playing year-round as a third grader and once represented her state in India's junior national tournament.

Her father's mother Marion Wilder was captain of a Wheaton College (Mass.) team that went unbeaten in 1941.

With such a legacy, it might seem that Wilder had no option other than to play hockey, but she said the choice was all hers.

"My mom didn't push at all," said Wilder. "I would have played anyway. My friends were playing and I just wanted to play."

Still, "knowing I was this great hockey fanatic may have nudged her toward the game," said Rani Wilder, a teacher at Gilman.

Wilder, 17, got her first hockey stick from an uncle who brought it home from Pakistan when she was little more than a tot. Her family also took a trip to India last year, but she missed her golden opportunity.

"My mom promised me we'd see a hockey game, but it was cricket season," said Wilder.

Since her mother's siblings all live in the United States, Wilder said she has never felt a particularly strong connection to her mother's native land. Playing hockey has given her a deeper appreciation.

"I wish I was more connected to the culture, like if my mother had taught me the language. I feel more connected to it when field hockey comes on TV, because I see people from India playing."

Wilder has certainly carried on the family tradition admirably. The senior is the defensive anchor of a 7-4 Park team that has fallen just short of cracking the The Sun's Top 15.

"She's one of the finest who's ever played here," said Park coach Barbara Purkey. "She loves the game and she just takes it from there. Her stickwork is exceptional. Her instincts are excellent."

Since she made the Bruins varsity as a freshman, Wilder has moved smoothly from attack to midfield to defense.

This season, she has faced a new challenge besides her move to center back -- adjusting to a protective mask. She has had to wear the mask since preseason when a teammate's stick caught her in the face and broke her nose.

Her game hasn't suffered even though she cannot always watch the ball and the field at the same time.

"I can see either down at my feet or up field, but I can't see both," said the 5-2 dynamo. "Sometimes it's difficult to stop the ball. If someone pushes it between my feet, I can't see it."

That hasn't kept her from being a Division I prospect.

Wilder has honed her skills in summer camps and in the Olympic Development-style Futures Program. Last summer, she made the all-star team at Princeton's camp. Thanksgiving weekend, she will play for a New Jersey club team at the U.S. Field Hockey Association's Hockey Festival near Palm Springs, Calif.

She is also busy trying to find a college with the right combination of her top priorities -- playing field hockey and studying environmental science.

Her interest in the environment blossomed four years ago while hiking on a Teen Wilderness Adventure. Several times since, she has worked five-week summer internships with the Appalachian Mountain Club doing trail work in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

"It's so beautiful up there and trail work is such a rewarding activity," said Wilder, who worked removing rocks from the hiking trails. "Doing manual labor, you really don't think you'll get anything out of it, but I've never gotten so much out of anything."

Except maybe field hockey.

Pub Date: 10/19/97

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