By Al Mattei


Barb Martell had a dream in 1981, long before soccer's Olympic Development Program, far before field hockey's Futures program, and way before the WNBA.

"We started with field hockey, because we could get insurance from the USFHA," she says. "Pretty quickly after that, we added women's basketball and a softball tournament. Then, in about 1993, I had a woman from Rutgers in my league, and she helped me with facilities. From there, we just exploded."

These days, the New Jersey Women's Sports Association is, for lack of a better term, an "opportunity factory." Martell, through sheer force of will and her unabashed risk-taking, gives girls, women, mothers, athletes, and couch potatoes the playing opportunities that are still lacking even in the 21st Century.

Martell's style of management is, simply, "If you build it, they will come." There have been times where she has started new programs with a bold stroke, followed by a prayer.

"I get an idea that I think is going to work, and in the end it probably does," Martell says. "But I have to work through all the reasons why it doesn't work."

Her two decades of contacts allow her to bring high-level coaches to events, even during the busy summer sports camp season.

"In our 'Golden Opportunity' field hockey program, we can get the top players in the whole country: Beth Beglin, Beth Anders, Steve Jennings -- and yet, it hasn't been successful," Martell says. "I could list the kinds of marketing mistakes I have made in that regard."

Martell's Golden Opportunity is a program which might break new ground in day camps. Like a workshop or symposium in the business world, participants can choose from several classes rather than spend time rotating through several skill stations over the course of an afternoon.

"They get to choose what they feel like learning, and they love it," Martell says. "The coaches think it's a good idea because they get to pick and choose."

Some of Martell's other ideas have grown much more quickly.

"I have a great high-school basketball league in the fall," Martell says. "I went from six to 26 teams in two years."

She tends to set her own trends rather than try to compete with other kinds of athletic programs.

"I run leagues in women's soccer, and the thing is, anyone can play. We have indoor programs for competitive women, programs for 30-and-over, and for adult beginners," she says. "That's my main niche, because there are already programs in the fall and spring for soccer, and they are very well-organized. I try to fill in around the edges."

Martell has seen other sports organizations surpass her efforts in the past several years, thanks to the women's sports revolution of the late 1990s.

"All of the other people have jumped on what I have done, and all of my programs are taking a hit," Martell says. "But the idea is to spread the opportunities for girls. It's hard for me sometimes, because I might have been the one who comes up with the idea, and then after I struggle through it, they will have learned from my mistakes." 1