By Al Mattei

Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

When you see Candace Boarder playing field hockey or relaxing between games at a 2001 tournament, you get the same image: a gym rat with kinetic energy, passion, and an endearing dash of chutzpah who appears to be moving even when sitting still.

It's the same kind of burn-the-candle-at-both-ends attitude she displayed as a student-athlete at Stony Creek Antietam (Pa.) until she graduated in 1993. But she was on that path where the athlete was taking over the student portion of her life.

"My priorities were different: I did sports, I was president of the class and of student council, and I was involved in many different activities," she said.

Once Boarder put down her field hockey stick at the end of the fall season, she would become an outside hitter for the volleyball team or a member of the school's softball or diving teams. She even found time to be a cheerleader.

"I went from school, to practice, to practice, to home, never doing homework -- my priorities were elsewhere," she said. "I thought, because I was an average field hockey player, that it would get me into school, get me what I wanted."

Candace Boarder underwent a major setback in the spring and summer of 1993. She had applied to five colleges, but was rejected by all of them. She had been hoping to continue her competitive field hockey career at the likes of Kutztown and Shippensburg, a pair of state schools in Pennsylvania.

Since then, there have been regrets, personal struggles, and thoughts about unfinished business, all fired by her immense determination. Eight years removed from her final scholastic field hockey season, she stands ready to act.

Boarder has planned on making her intercollegiate field hockey debut in the fall of 2001, upon successful completion of a number of junior college courses needed to raise her grade-point average. She hopes to be one of the roughly six million non-traditional students (that's a shade under 41 percent) attending U.S. colleges.

"I am at Reading Area Community College to improve my grades, since I didn't take my SATs, and people looking at my high-school transcripts wouldn't accept them even today," Boarder says. "I've been doing great, but I have four years of (NCAA) eligibility, and I am definitely interested in going back to college to see what I can do."

The thing about Boarder is that she is not unintelligent; she is articulate, forthright, and confident. But the choices she made in high school have affected her for eight years.

Things had been going well for her, field hockey and otherwise, right through her senior year at Antietam. In the fall of 1992, Boarder and her team made the playoffs for the first time since 1956.

"We lost to Twin Valley in double overtime, 2-1," Boarder recalls, as if it was yesterday. "It was a piddly little goal, because we were so tired."

That season, she understood the passion that field hockey can bring to the fiber of oneís being, more than just about any other sport.

"I hated people to be better than me: I just wanted to be the best player in the county, the best player to ever come out of my high school," she says. "I knew that I wanted to go on to college and play."

She thought at the time that she might not come back to Antietam until after finishing college. But after being rejected by every school to which she applied, she found herself coming back the next fall to coach Antietam's junior varsity team.

Boarder would eventually go to Wyomissing (Pa.) to take a coaching position there. But in all discussions with her players, the same question would fluster her: where did she play in college?

"I would get a little shy and hesistant when that subject comes up," she says.

The environment being what it is in terms of competitive field hockey in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Boarder's quest to latch onto a college team may seem to some as a fool's errand. Not only will her potential teammates be up to eight or nine years younger, they will have been schooled in a completely different field hockey environment. When Boarder was playing for Antietam, for example, she only played from August through October.

"At that time, your coach would pick two people, say, 'Hey, you two are good,' and send them to Futures," she says. "But now, you go through a whole selection and tryout process. And you play year-round."

But Boarder has played a lot of club hockey in the eight years since her senior year of high school. She has traveled to Canada to play in a tournament, and has participated with the Reading-Berks and the High Styx Alumnae teams in various league and national competitions.

In addition, she has learned a lot from coaching her Wyomissing players and has even gotten involved in local umpiring, making a total commitment to the scholastic game.

So, why give all of it up to go to a four-year college at the age of 26?

"I just love the game of field hockey," she says. "I just have this drive: I'd give everything I have for the kids I coach. I take them to every indoor and outdoor tournament I can. I even take them to Philadelphia Phantoms ice hockey games. I get very involved; I have also coached Futures for three years."

Boarder has set some high goals for herself -- "I let myself go on too many things in my life," she says -- that may seem outlandish to many in the American field hockey intelligentsia. She sees herself, come hell or high water, wearing the stars and stripes of Team USA someday.

"Some people set goals for themselves that they never accomplish," Boarder says. "I have a lot to offer, and I don't want to give up. I would love to be some kind of national-team player. It may seem to be far-fetched, but if it ever turned out that I didn't make it, so what? My main goal is to go back to school and play."

She also has high goals for herself in academia, hoping to major in education, then work towards a masters degree in education with the ambition of perhaps becoming a school principal.

Those goals are far in the future. At present, she hopes to cross sticks with many of the best in the country as part of the United Airlines Field Hockey League. If she hasnít already, she hopes to get noticed by a college coach there, if not the moment she walks onto the practice pitch that first day of field hockey practice, wherever she goes.

I want to go to a place that is bringing up their program, but I donít want to be the team," she says. "I want to be part of the team, even though everyone is going to be talking about how I played for eight years after high school."

The irony is that if Boarder is able to latch on with an NCAA team this fall, she won't be able to see Wyomissing's inaugural game on an artificial turf field she had a hand in bringing to the school district.

Then again, given her dedication to her craft, even in a situation where most in her position would quit, that new field might turn out to be her most lasting gift.