GREENWICH ACADEMY IN THE GOOD HANDS OF ANGELA TAMMARO
By Al Mattei
The Founder and Greenwich Academy head coach Angela Tammaro sat down outside the main ballroom of The Westin Hotel in Providence, R.I. during the winter of 2005.
Unlike many of her counterparts attending the National Field Hockey Coaches' Association convention, Tammaro's countenance is not furrowed by many years of fighting administrations for equal pay or funding.
Why? She is one of only two field hockey coaches in the 500-win club to be coaching at a single-sex institution.
You might think that kind of freedom of resource and time investment would have yielded amazing field hockey players who would dominate the national scene or represent the United States in international play. But that, as we would learn, is not her purpose.
Angela Tammaro was watching her Greenwich Academy team during a 2004 training session on the gorgeous greensward of FieldTurf behind the athletic center that bears her name.
As the sixtysomething coach saw her green and yellow-clad players bounding from one position to another, passing and receiving, she saw something wasn't right.
"I went out and stopped a couple of balls; I have good hands, so I could do it," Tammaro said. "The kids were amazed."
Such is the can-do attitude of a woman with more than 550 field hockey coaching wins, which was third all-time heading into the 2005 season. Add another 500 wins in lacrosse, plus her stints in other endeavors, and her win total is somewhere around 1,200.
All of Tammaro's success is borne of a decision made in the mid-60s after graduating from Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.
"I made a conscious decision to go into teaching and coaching in the independent schools," Tammaro says. "I was well aware of the red tape in the public schools, and at the time I chose to coach, public schools were not at the forefront of any competitive sports. They have since improved tremendously, but in those days, it was, at least in New England, the independent schools had teams and played each other."
By the time she arrived on the campus in 1965 for her first season, her positive attitude was a perfect fit.
"Being young and youthful and willing to play yourself, I brought an enthusiasm that was infectious with the kids, and it really got them on the bandwagon," Tammary says. "The head of the school at the time thought that what I was doing was terrific and wholeheartedly support it.
But she has not only kept up her enthusiasm, she has kept her approach to the game very simple -- extremely simple to those in the field hockey intelligentsia who analyze everything from a player's yardstick drill test score to the tensile strength of the triceps.
"Look, field hockey isn't rocket science -- it's a game, she says. "It is possible for a good athlete to pick up field hockey. If they have good hands, you should, as a halfway decent coach, develop that player into a good field hockey player."
This simplicity has turned Greenwich Academy into a dominant force in southwestern Connecticut -- to the point where her Gators have won all but one Fairchester Athletic Conference title since she started.
But, as Tammaro will tell you, varsity field hockey was much different back then. The neighboring Rosemary Hall School merged with, and moved to, the campus of The Choate School, an hour's drive north. And gamedays have moved away from a system that resembles old-time Roller Derby.
"We had just seven games a season, and we would play either on a Tuesday or Thursday," Tammaro says about the 1965 season. "The games were sandwiched: the varsity would play their first half, then the JV would play its first half, then the varsity would play its second half, then the JV would play the second half. Twenty minute halves."
She then pauses. "Things have improved."
Tammaro has also seen the nature of the opposition change over the years. At one time, there were almost no games between Connecticut's public and private schools -- not even town derbies. But in 2004, Greenwich Academy beat Greenwich High, which at the time was Connecticut's top-ranked team in the Hartford Courant's weekly poll.
"Some of the public schools didn't want to play the private schools because they didn't count towards state qualification," she says. "I've always been the type of person who wants to play the best that was available within reasonable travel distance."
Despite dual membership in the Fairchester Athletic Association and the Western New England Private Schools Athletic Association (WNEPSAA), she has had a diverse group of schools rounding out her schedule. Many of these have been Connecticut and New York public schools.
"At one time I don't think there was the respect for each other, and that goes for both public and private," Tammaro says. "But it's getting better. People can learn to appreciate each other."
Although the Gators have had success in league and tournament play, you don't see that many individual Greenwich Academy alumnae taking their skills and talent to Top 10 college programs or international play.
"We've had a number of players who have played in college, but the way the programs are structured now, most of our kids don't want to sell their life for a sport," Tammaro says. "That's why so many of our kids opt for Division III. We did have one kid go to Penn State when she saw the fact that it had won (AIAW) national championships in field hockey and lacrosse in the same year."
These days, the more likely Division I player from GA will have landed at an Ivy League school, parlaying that education towards a different kind of success.
"I have numerous kids who are now tops in the business world, doctors, surgeons," Tammaro says. "These are all the things that people aspire to become -- cancer research, all sorts of things."
But Tammaro's field hockey legacy is also found on campus, where her fingerprints are all over the athletic program. She has coached basketball, squash, and ice hockey along with girls' lacrosse and field hockey. By 2004, she dropped all but field hockey and lacrosse.
"No more of that," Tammaro says. "Now, we offer 14 sports, so it's a huge difference. The school has now increased in size; hence, more sports."
To reflect the increase in opportunities, the school radically altered its physical plant: a new athletic building and a large swath of FieldTurf behind the school.
"It was a very wise decision," Tammaro says. "We did a lot of homework, checked out of a lot of surfaces. The field hockey side of me wanted to go with AstroTurf 12, but the athletic director side knew that wasn't the field surface that had kids four years old and up. I was grateful that our board agreed to put down the whole playing area. We have 202,000 square feet, which is roughly 2 2/3 fields. We're very, very lucky."
The Greenwich Academy field hockey program, along with many private schools in New England, is based on the European model, in that there are 10 teams in a multi-layered system of teams from grades 7 through 12.
"We tend to feel good when players who we've developed at GA make the varsity, which tells us we're doing something right," Tammaro says. "We do keep spaces open for kids who transfer in when the junior schools finish in 9th grade."
So, what does the future hold for Tammaro at Greenwich Academy?
"I'll coach as long as it's still fun," she says. "And I still enjoy it; you might get bored if you have the same players every year, but with the new players, and it's all new to them.
And, hopefully, simple.