AN APPRECIATION

Starr Karl, head coach, Centreville (Va.)

One in an occasional series.

By Al Mattei

Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

The Nov. 7, 2000 edition of The Washington Post plastered a 72-point headline "A Towering Legacy" to commemorate the retirement of a local scholastic coach.

But you had to go all the way to page D9 to read about the retirement of Starr Karl.

For 20 seasons at Fairfax (Va.) and nearby Centreville (Va.), Karl won 279 games. In a state which limits regular seasons to half those of some nearby states, that is a remarkable number of victories.

Her 17 league titles led to four appearances at the eight-team, single-elimination Virginia High School League championship tournament. And each time, her team was up against seemingly overwhelming odds.

Teams from the southeast corner of the state, especially Virginia Beach Frank W. Cox (Va.) have historically dominated VHSL play, keeping a state championship off her coaching resume.

"You hit a wall playing them," Karl says. "And that's what happens when you're giving kids sticks when they're in ninth grade. Until the coaches start their kids earlier, we're not going to win the state final."

But you shouldn't judge her by the lack of a championship trophy.

Starr Karl is from a nebulous area of the American field hockey coaching diaspora. On one end, you have a group of aging Title IX fighters who started coaching in the early 1970s. Many have retired in the late 1990s and early 2000s, weakening the field hockey community's grass roots.

On the other hand, there is a legion of young coaches who have received international-level tactics and training and have begun imparting them to their players.

Karl represented that area in between, where coaches during the week became rec players on Sundays, and there was that air of unvarnished optimism in the field hockey community because of bronze medals in the 1979 and 1992 Women's World Cups and the 1984 Olympics.

"It's really important to keep playing," she says, "because I think this game changes moreso than any other game. I think that's what's been so much fun coaching this game, because a lot of the things that I have taught my kids, I know how to do."

To really understand Karl, watch her play. Whether she was on the turf with the Washington Shredders or on a wooden court at her indoor camp, pregnant with her fourth child, she was always moving, head up, the ball seemingly magnetized to her stick.

And to further understand her, line up against her daughter Shannon on a penalty corner. For years, the younger Karl terrorized Northern Virginia corner defense units not only with a powerful shot and skills, but with an unfettered willingness to use them.

Starr Karl saw Shannon matriculate to the College of William & Mary in 2002. Undoubtedly, she had some adjustments to make, starting with making the long ride down I-95 to I-64 east to Williamsburg to see her daughter play.

And now, the field hockey community in Northern Virginia has to adjust to not having her on the sidelines. At least for a while: she will still be involved in youth development such as camps and leagues, and has expressed interest in working with the budding U-12 traveling programs that have sprung up in places from California to New Jersey.

So, when 3-year-old Mackenzie becomes a high-school freshman?

"Hey, you never know," Karl says. "Maybe I'll be Shannon's assistant."

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