Families that stick together

Two girls are now playing for the programs they grew up around

August 30, 2006|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,sun reporter

By the time they could walk, Alison Hankins and Lindsey Puckett were big field hockey fans.

On game days at Severna Park, Hankins was always there, dressed identically to the players in a little plaid skirt and blue sweater. Puckett couldn't get enough of Fallston games either, sporting an orange-and-white Cat in the Hat hat almost as big as she was.

Neither girl ever doubted that she would grow up to play for her favorite team. Neither did the coaches -- Hankins' grandmother, Lil Shelton, and Puckett's mother, Alice Puckett.

Two years ago, Hankins, now a senior, moved up to Shelton's varsity team late in the season. Lindsey Puckett, a sophomore, is in her second year on the Cougars' varsity.

While playing for "Mom" is rare in this sport because many women stop coaching to raise their own children, several longtime coaches said they can't remember ever hearing of a grandmother coaching her granddaughter.

Shelton and Hankins wouldn't have it any other way, and it shows.

"Lil and Ali always had a special relationship. I just think it's pure joy [for Shelton] that she's out there. It's a great win-win situation," said Falcons assistant coach Sue Behringer, who made the little kilts for Hankins and her own daughter Allison, now a Falcons junior.

Shelton and Alice Puckett certainly guided their offspring toward the game, giving them their first sticks and cheering them in their first games when they were 7, but the girls said they never pushed.

They never had to.

"I was raised around the whole environment, so that influenced me," said Hankins, who idolized the Falcons players.

The girls said they always felt the closeness both coaches foster within their teams.

"I remember when I was 4 and [the Fallston players] would all jump on each other after they won. ... I just always wanted to be a part of it," Lindsey Puckett said.

But earning a spot on these varsity teams is never easy.

Shelton and Alice Puckett have built two of the most successful programs in state history. Between them, they have 24 state titles and more than 700 victories. The Falcons won the Class 3A final last season, 2-0 over Fallston, for a state-record 15th title.

That success can put added pressure on a coach's daughter or granddaughter. Hankins felt it.

"You kind of had to, but it wasn't bad pressure, just the pressure to push me even harder," she said. "There were always going to be people who are going to say I only made the team because my grandmother's the coach, so I've had to grow tough skin, but over the summer I train like twice as hard just to prove myself."

Although Hankins said none of it comes from her teammates, her mother, Lorie Hankins, said her daughter doesn't want anyone to think she is favored.

"It's been very difficult for her, because she trains very hard and she resents that people say the only reason she's playing is because her grandmother's the coach. The people who know Alison and her close friends know it's not true," said Lorie Hankins, who played softball for her mother at Severna Park in the mid-1970s.

Lindsey Puckett has had it easier. She's never felt any resentment even though she started as a freshman.

But she had been a Junior Olympian before she got to high school. Last fall, she was the only freshman to make one of The Sun's All-County first teams, and this summer, she was selected to USA Field Hockey's Futures Elite program.

"Everyone was really supportive last year, but then again I knew my place. I knew I had to prove myself because I was a freshman," said Puckett, who wants to play Division I college hockey.

Fallston senior Kathleen Tress said Lindsey Puckett was easy to accept: "It wasn't that she's the coach's daughter, it was sheer talent."

Hankins and Puckett said they've never gotten preferential treatment. If anything, the coaches are a little harder on them, they said, but they appreciate being pushed to be better players.

Shelton and Alice Puckett, who spend a lot of time talking with their girls about the game off the field, have been careful not to favor their offspring on the field.

"I worried about that a little bit last year," said Alice Puckett, "but her resume spoke for itself, which was good and if it didn't, she could have played on the JV. That would have been fine."

Shelton, who has a 443-50-8 career record entering her 32nd year with the Falcons, said she doesn't want Hankins, a sometime starter last season, to stand out, because that could draw more animosity.

For Alice Puckett, one of the perks of having a daughter on the team is getting a different perspective.

"When you're coaching you observe things, but you don't always get the privilege of really hearing what they're saying, and she'll fill me in sometimes without breaking the confidence of her teammates. She lets me see things in a different light through her eyes," said Puckett, 289-58-17 in 24 years at Fallston.

All four said the experience has made their relationships stronger and they've enjoyed the time spent together.

"It's been the most wonderful time just to be able to watch her on the field. I have loved having her as part of my program," said Shelton, who also has a granddaughter, Melanie Shelton, playing at Old Mill.

While the Pucketts look forward to three more seasons together on the team, Shelton and Hankins are making the most of their final months.

"We'll both have a hard time when it's over, but I think it'll be harder on her," said Hankins, who isn't sure whether she'll keep playing in college.

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

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