Continuing her winning streak

Instructor keeps receiving awards, most recently as national coach of the year

March 19, 2006|By CASSANDRA A. FORTIN | CASSANDRA A. FORTIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Bel Air field hockey coach earns national recognition It was a mountaintop moment for Phyllis Hemmes last fall when she was nominated as Maryland field hockey coach of the year.

Turns out it was only the beginning of the ascent.

A few months later, Hemmes, who has coached at Bel Air High School for more than three decades, learned she had been named Mideast regional coach of the year by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

And recently, just as the thrill of that award had begun to dissipate, Hemmes received notification that she had been selected a national coach of the year.

"It's very humbling and flattering to have your peers nominate you for anything," said Hemmes, 58, who also is the school's athletic director. "I was so surprised when I read the letter because I had no idea anything was going on."

The award is based on a cumulative career of accomplishments on and off the field, said Tim Flannery, assistant director of the national association, the Indianapolis-based administrative organization of high school athletics and fine arts programs. National award-winners were recognized in 21 sports, he said.

Though the award came as a surprise, Hemmes said her suspicion was temporarily aroused when a member of the state coaches association asked her to fill out a form that included questions about her coaching record, membership in coaching organizations, involvement with other school and community activities and coaching philosophies.

The form went to a selection panel made up of representatives from eight regions throughout the United States. One coach from each region and sports category is selected, and the nominees are submitted to a national panel that made the selections.

Hemmes has taught health and physical education at Bel Air for 37 years and took over as head field hockey coach 33 years ago. Her teams have won 14 county titles and 13 regional titles and captured a state championship in 1976. Her coaching record is 298 wins, 129 losses and 23 ties.

Former players say they learned about more than sports from Hemmes. Lucy Godfrey, a Stewartstown, Pa., resident who played for Hemmes in the late 1970s, said she came away with skills that shaped her character.

"Miss Hemmes taught us discipline and respect and good sportsmanship," said Godfrey, who played field hockey for the University of Maryland and officiates the sport for a youth league. "She prepared you for a lot more than a hockey field. She brought a lot of young women a long way, and we're all still in hockey one way or the other."

Eleanor Cassilly, a junior, said she was excited to see her coach receive recognition.

"She gives so much to the school and to her team," Cassilly said. "She deserves this award more than anyone. It's a chance for her to get something back for all she does for us."

Hemmes grew up in Prince George's County, where scholastic sports for girls were almost nonexistent. She played one year of basketball, three years of lacrosse and one year of field hockey at Frostburg State College. Upon graduating in 1969, she took a job at Bel Air High as a health and physical education teacher, as well as an assistant field hockey coach.

She said she chose Harford because it was a contrast to Prince George's in terms of athletics for girls. Harford had programs when she arrived, and they have been increasing ever since.

Godfrey remembers Hemmes as a coach who was tough but fair. She recalled practices where Hemmes helped the players overcome their fear of getting dirty.

"Good rainy-day practices always started on your back in the mud," Godfrey said. "That way we didn't have to worry about getting dirty, and we were free to play."

Godfrey said Hemmes delivered criticism and praise only when warranted.

"When she yelled your name, you knew you had done something wrong," Godfrey said. "And when you got a smile or a nod, it meant something because they didn't come easy."

Hemmes said that although she is demanding, she strives to be fair and ensure that the players have fun.

"As a coach, I wanted the girls to have a good positive experience and be comfortable in what they are doing," she said.

Looking back on her years as a coach, Hemmes said she had daughters, aunts and nieces of former players on her teams, and many offer up fond recollections of their experiences.

"What makes me feel best is that players I taught 30 years ago still remember," she said. "One student I taught in 1976 heard about the award and sent me a bouquet of flowers."

Many of her team members had such a good experience with Hemmes decades ago that they are asking her to keep coaching for future generations.

"My former students were approaching me to say that their daughter would be at the high school the next year and they wanted me to coach them," Hemmes said. "I think people like me because I teach them that field hockey is a challenge, but it's also about bonding and camaraderie."

As for the future, Hemmes said the idea of retiring bounces around in her head from time to time, but she's not calling it quits anytime soon. Cassilly said the coach is too dedicated to her team to leave.

"She takes care of her team," said Cassilly. "One of our first games, the opposing team was becoming more and more aggressive, and finally she went to the referee and told him that if he didn't start calling the game, she'd take the team and leave. That's the type of coach she is and always will be."

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