AN APPRECIATION

Bonnie Carter, head coach, Annandale North Hunterdon (N.J.)

One in an occasional series.

By Al Mattei

Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

North Hunterdon Regional High School is located up on New Jersey Route 31, a road that bisects the municipalities of Annandale and Clinton at the top of a hill near Interstate 78.

It is one of the best places in this country to watch a field hockey game, since the sidelines seem to angle into the field, and you can get a good look at vast countryside overlooking Cramer's Brook.

Well, at least you could when Bonnie Carter started coaching field hockey in the mid-1970s.

Since then, however, the area around the school has seen rapid change. Many of the nearby trees have been leveled for housing, gas stations, and automobile dealerships. The two-lane road in front of the school is a five-lane major thoroughfare, which cut the width of the sideline at the east end of the hockey field to a small strip.

The changes in the town, at school, and demographics have been overwhelming. Carter has seen her win totals come down as the sister school in her district, Glen Gardner Voorhees (N.J.) has seen its win totals go up.

It also did not escape Carter's notice that Voorhees, the team's main rival in just about every sport, had hired one of her former players, Beth Stocker, as head coach in 2003. As Beth Timko, she was one of the finest players ever to come out of the North Hunterdon program.

Now, as both Voorhees and North Hunterdon are in the same district, you would think that there would be a reasonable sharing of talent in field hockey.

However, it is the sending districts to the Glen Gardner campus that have developed the field hockey talent currently wearing the Voorhees jerseys.

The North Hunterdon teams have, therefore, struggled to get the wins necessary to cap off Carter's career at 300 wins; she finished the 2003 season with 295.

Even at the precipice of this monumental achievement, however, Carter decided to walk away.

"I just figured it was time," Carter told The Newark Star-Ledger. "I probably cried every day for the last week thinking about this day because field hockey has been in my blood for so long."

More than half her life, it turns out.

"It took me several years to figure out the art of coaching, but I understand it's much more than wins and losses," she told The Star-Ledger. "As a coach, you must teach character and life skills. That's all a part of it."

She has seen changes in kids through her work as a physical education teacher at the school. And not all of them have been positive.

Carter was in the stands at The College of New Jersey for the 2002 state championships, resplendently dressed as usual.

Our conversation touched on a drug scandal that had permeated the entire region the previous month, one which had even implicated female athletes from the North Hunterdon-Voorhees district.

In our brief snippet of chatter, while waiting for coaches to come out of a post-game meeting, she neatly laid out the factors that led to the drug culture that had come to such an idyllic part of New Jersey.

As Carter learned a long time ago, things change.

Perhaps the final chapter of Bonnie Carter's field hockey history has not yet been written. But we do know that her absence from the North Hunterdon sidelines leaves a void that will not easily be filled.

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