A TEAM FROM NEW YORK CITY REFLECTS

By Hana Alberts

It was only the fourth day of Chapin's school year, but the varsity had been practicing daily for three weeks. The imminent burden of schoolwork had put a slight damper on the happy-go-lucky atmosphere of preseason, but our spirits nevertheless remained high.

At 7 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11th, our team's main goal of the day was nothing more than to reduce the number of warmup laps we had to run.

I remember that the cloudless sky was a glorious, luminous shade of blue. The sun rose over the East River, temporarily blinding the team and drawing elongated silhouettes of us on the field that danced over the AstroTurf as we practiced.

I remember our nylon jackets lining the side of the field in aimless piles. It was one of those chilly mornings in early fall, but as practice continued, many of us shed the sweatshirts and windbreakers we had donned in the wee hours of the morning.

I remember what seemed like thousands of little neon colored cones, winding and snaking across the field, set up so that we could practice our drags and pulls.

I remember the cheer that rang out when the coaches announced that it was time to scrimmage, and the good natured grunts, groans, and yelps that echoed while we were playing.

I remember girls ambling towards school, weighed down by stickbags and backpacks, but calling jokes and reminders to each other, making plans to meet up after school at the Starbucks or Bagel Bob's.

I remember staying a few extra minutes at the field to practice my penalty flick on the goalie, and glancing at my watch only to learn that if I didnt leave that instant, I would be late for school.

I remember that the team clicked. That morning practice was one of the first indications. Six seniors had graduated the previous year, and we had wondered how the team would ever recover. Somehow, miraculously, we filled that void with enthusiasm, perseverance, and an indescribable spirit. There's no other way to explain it. We were perfect.

But the rest of September 11th was a blur.

As I walked home with my stickbag on my shoulder, surrounded by policemen and wailing sirens, I couldn't believe that it was less than three hours since practice had ended. It was as if I had stepped into an alternate universe, one that held an alien reality, far away from field hockey and everything I had known was true before.

After three days of rapid heart-stirring change, I was relieved to indulge in my team's compassionate support on that Friday afternoon when we practiced again. We could all channel our energy, confusion and frustrations into hockey to help us come to terms with the events of the week.

A week after the attack, our scrimmage against a Long Island team was canceled. That particular school had suffered such heavy losses that their team hadn't had a chance to practice.

I remember thinking that Chapin was blessed to have comparatively small losses from such a terrific tragedy. But it occurred to us that our practice, just three days after the attacks, was more than a return to normalcy. Our practice wasn't beneficial just for our skills; it had become a coping mechanism.

Hockey practice was safe, because terrorism could not destroy its invincible spirit as it did the World Trade Center. Playing field hockey was therapeutic. It was something familiar, exciting and challenging, that we loved and knew we could understand, even when we couldnt answer all of our questions about terrorism. It was a comfort and an escape at the same time.

In the light of global war and international turmoil, it is ironic that field hockey did not lose importance to us over the season. Instead, we bestowed on it an even greater significance than before. Of course, we acknowledged that it is important to see the big picture, and to view events in our own lives in relation to the more weighty ones of the world.

However, in this time of crisis, it was important to focus on the little things that we could control, like running an extra lap at practice or taking a couple more practice penalty strokes. Thirty teenage girls are powerless in the face of terrorism.

True, we couldnt do anything to reverse New York City's tragic losses, but we could aim to improve our season, our skills, and our selves, so that the few concrete things in our control are developed to their fullest potential.

A few weeks after the attack, all thirty team members and two coaches sat in a circle on the field and each person explained to the group why she joined the team.

The answers varied. For some, it was our traditions: the cheers, the gummy bears attached to our shirts that we eat when we score a goal, the team carbo-loading dinners. For others, it was the feeling of being part of a tight-knit group.

But, for most, it was simply the game. We loved to play. The fun and satisfaction that comes from playing hockey with a group of dedicated, skilled individuals is unparalleled. That day, we were all reminded why we played hockey in the first place. It was a diversion from attack, but it was also a way to fill a void in our lives that tragedy had created.

September 11th may have changed our lives to an alarming degree, but field hockey was our constant. We needed that bulwark of support. Everybody needed a pillar of strength, and we felt lucky that we had already found ours.

Hana Alberts, a sweeper, was a member of the class of 2001 at The Chapin School in New York City, a scant two miles from the World Trade Center. She matriculated to Harvard in the fall of 2002.

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