Program taps into demand for sport

With diligent efforts by parents, the Howard Stampede field hockey program takes off, growing from 20 players three years ago to 130 players this fall

At Play

September 21, 2005|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

All Jean Parker had in mind about four years ago was getting some Howard County representation into the Maryland Youth Field Hockey League.

Parker had loved the sport at Mount Hebron High School in the 1970s. A friend had a daughter playing field hockey on a youth team in Carroll County, which led Parker to discover that no comparable opportunity existed in Howard County for her daughter. Thus began a long, winding road to starting what has become the county's only travel program in the sport.

"I [know] parents just don't want kids to miss a really good opportunity," she said. "This ... was for girls who really want to learn another sport."

A year later, the Howard Stampede was born with 20 girls. This fall, the Stampede has 130 players on eight age-group teams in three age brackets. The Maryland league has teams in Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties.

The Stampede is one of two youth field hockey programs in the county. The other, operated by the county's Department of Recreation and Parks, has about 100 players this fall but plays locally, at an introductory level.

Parker, who by day is general manager of Merriweather Post Pavilion, began her quest to bolster the sport at the county's recreation department, seeking field time.

Scarce field time

She was asking, she learned, a tough question, because field time during prime time for youth sports was at a premium, given the interest in soccer and football during the late summer and fall. She then turned to the Ellicott City-based Howard County Youth Program, seeking a home there. No dice.

So back to rec and parks Parker went, this time with an offer that opened the door for her fledgling club. Knowing that most soccer and other youth teams practiced about 5 p.m., Parker, who lives in Woodbine, asked whether she could book field time at 4 p.m. for practice.

"I knew it would be rough, starting that early," Parker said, "because so many parents would still be at work or coming from work, but I figured that if they liked the program, they'd work out a way to get their kids on the fields."

The deal was done, and Parker's field hockey dream landed her access to two fields for 90 minutes at Glenwood Park on Monday and Friday, with games Sunday.

Equipment, coaches, players

After that, Parker needed to come up with the elements needed to run a field hockey team. She knew the game well enough, as a former player, but everything else - equipment, coaches, players - had to be lined up.

Parker applied to U.S. Field Hockey, the sport's national governing federation, for an equipment grant. She received it, and the Stampede came away with gear that ranged from pricey, bulky goalkeeper equipment to cones for drills, balls, shin guards, mouth guards and sticks for about 24 players.

The first Stampede team, in 2002, was made up of 20 fifth- and sixth-graders. In 2003, the Stampede grew to three teams. Last fall, it had five.

Parker attributes the program's success to the large number of volunteers who have done a variety of tasks. Several worked at learning the game so they could coach and help teams become a reality. Greg Nelson is one of those people.

The Sykesville resident knew little about field hockey when his daughter wanted to play the sport last year but studied to take over as a coach.

"I got a lot of help from Jean [Parker] and a lot of help from the library and a lot of help from Liz Brigham, [assistant coach at Glenelg High]," Nelson said. "I've coached everything else. It's very similar to soccer, but I'm enjoying it.`

Donna Schaaf, who lives in Ellicott City, has helped Parker from the beginning in several roles, including coaching. Three of her four daughters are players.

"Once the word got out on how much fun they were having, [the Stampede] began to grow," Schaaf said. "The girls really enjoy playing, and they're good kids, and they have a lot of fun."

Parker enjoys it, too. The field hockey club, she said, is truly a labor of love.

"Here, I can make a difference; here, I can contribute," she said. "If you can find something that you like and you're having a good time, the time doesn't matter."

As for the future, Parker said, the Stampede will take things one step at a time. She is trying to get access to one of two synthetic turf fields at Western Regional Park in Glenwood, scheduled to open next year. Synthetic turf is popular in the field hockey community, she said, and being able to use it locally would be good for the Stampede.

In the end, Parker still laughs a little at how one small dream grew into such a success.

"My whole goal was just to have a team," Parker said. "The fact that there's so much interest surprised me. It was a pleasure to see, but a surprise. It took off, and it's better than I ever imagined."

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