INDOOR NATIONALS TEST EVERYONE'S METTLE

By Al Mattei

Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

The 1999 USFHA Indoor National age-group field hockey tournament had many memorable aspects: the wide-open fieldhouse at Franklin & Marshall which gave excellent sight lines; the domimant play of The Barracudas, the Washington Wolves, and LBC in the U19 championship games; and a fine cup of corn chowder.

But the most memorable aspect of the tournament definitely had to be the Saturday schedule. If you were a hardcore fan of the game of indoor field hockey -- the 6-on-6 version of the game played on a surface slightly larger than a basketball court, with regulation-sized goals on each end of the field -- you would be in heaven. The reason? Games were played between 6:30 a.m. and 12:30 a.m.

For many outside of the American field hockey community, these hours have to be unusual if not bizarre. However, for the dozens of administrators, coaches, umpires, and parents, the long hours were most unusual. This was especially true of those with multiple roles in the tournament. Steve Simpson, for example, was not only an umpire at the tournament, but coach of the Washington Wolves.

"It's tough to do both, because you have to concentate when you do either one," Simpson said in a break between games. "It makes for a long day, because you do things all during the day. You have many more times that you have to concentrate, so the cumulative effect is, it makes you more tired."

Simpson could be seen wearing a powder-blue umpires' polo shirt for part of the day, then would disappear for a while, only to return with his Wolves squad a half-hour later. But he is used to this double role: he did the same thing six weeks earlier at the Lawrenceville (N.J.) qualifier.

"From a coaching point of view, the Wolves schedule is really easy: our first game is at 11:30, and our last game is at six," Simpson said. "That makes it really managable: tonight I should actually be able to sleep."

Other teams wound up having two games 13 hours apart, allowing some teams the chance to shop at the nearby outlet stores, or to go home and take a nap between the end of the postgame talk and warmups for the next game.

Another adult with multiple roles is Laura Darling, head of the USFHA Futures Program. She not only helped run the three-day championship, she was an interested spectator and hockey mom. Her daugher Kelly was playing for the Spirit of USA East team.

"I'm used to days like this," she says while taking a break from the information table. "As a mother, I wake up at 5 a.m. to get ready for a school day, and I am often up until 10."

"Thankfully, I have help: Lori Vile, Lisa Rebane, Pam Cosse, and (club founder) Dee Pasternick helps out," said Nancy McHale, who had a hand in coaching five Spirit of USA teams, including Kelly Darling's East team. "It seems to work out: the kids are good, and it works out that we have a game about every hour: I think we only have one conflict."

McHale points out that, no matter which of the 76 teams is competing, that there is a very important part of the equation when it comes to surviving the longest day in American field hockey.

"We have to have good parents to keep them well-fed, and to give them plenty of water," McHale says. "I have 10 rooms full of of kids, and 30 rooms of parents: we have a great following. I can't give the parents enough credit, because they keep the kids together."

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