SUSKO IN ANTI-GOGGLE CAMP DESPITE HISTORY
By Al Mattei
"I remembered everything."
Kim Susko's words sum up the first sensations of a year-long ordeal which saw her right cheekbone shattered from a chipped field hockey ball -- off the stick of NCAA all-time scoring leader Marina DiGiacomo, no less -- in the fall of 2000 while playing for Duke University.
"When the ball got about a foot from my face, I was thinking, 'This is going to hurt,'" she says from her office in the greater Boston area. "When the ball hit, it was numb for a while."
Susko's cheekbone had to be reconstructed with a titanium plate and screws by a plastic surgeon. She sat out the rest of the season and got a medical redshirt for a fifth season at Duke.
Four years later, she made the U.S. indoor national team and did some double-duty with the U.S. outdoor national team's residency program, one of only a select few players to be with both programs in the same year.
As such, she should be a visible and vocal proponent for the mandatory use of eyewear in the game of field hockey.
But Kim Susko isn't.
She saw the effects of what goggles could do to players when she coached the junior varsity program at Newton (Mass.) North, a short drive outside Boston.
"Most of the girls wore the plastic goggles, and a couple of girls had the cage variety. But the thing is, the plastic type will fog up whenever it is humid or you get hot and sweaty, and you can't see," Susko says. "And with the cage, there's so much padding that you can't control the ball when you're looking forward. I wore them once, and the padding makes you feel like you're in your own little world."
What that has done, especially to young players, is to turn the sport into something on the order of shinny.
"The players are always looking down and crowding around the ball," Susko says. "Now, our good players were good enough to start with (before the Massachusetts goggle rule)."
At prep school and in college, Susko had coaches with years of experience. But she remembers well who taught her the proper way to make a tackle and to give herself the best chance to not get a head injury from an opponent's stick.
"(Former U.S. men's international) Bobby Issar was the only one who gaves us the proper technique as to how to tackle," says Susko of her club coach at Spirit Eagles Group. "The thing is, a lot of coaches don't know how to teach that; they teach the same thing if you're approaching from the left or approaching from the right."
But the randomess of a badly struck ball, or one coming from a divot, is another matter.
"Actually, it's not a bad idea for defenders to be allowed to wear them on corners," Susko says. "OK, so then the parents feel safer. But it's not going to make them a better field hockey player. It's teaching proper technique (on defense) that will make them better."
Susko also points out a couple of unintended consequences regarding play with goggles.
"First off, the players are going to be a lot braver, and a lot more reckless," she says. "And the goggles don't protect the back of the head, either. Further, if the force of the hit is strong enough to cause serious damage to the eye, then it will be strong enough to push the goggle frames onto the orbital bone, causing an injury."
NOTE: The Right To Right Is Right program is designed to help players, coaches, and administrators in maintaining a safe and injury-free environment for all field hockey participants. However, participants in any sport should be aware of the inherent risk of injury.