AN APPRECIATION

Tiffany Bashore, coach, Ewing (N.J.) 1994-1997

One in an occasional series.

By Al Mattei

Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

The month of May is supposed to be a time of anticipation and growth, in nature and in school.

But for the past two years, the middle of May hearkens back to a dark time.

It was close to deadline on May 15, 1997, when one of my trusted Trenton Times colleagues on the news side came back from a school board meeting and broke the news to me: Tiffany Bashore died earlier in the day.

I do not remember much of the next 20 minutes or so, except maybe for the kind of numbness you get from taking two Aleve tablets instead of one.

By the time I left the building that night, I had cranked out a small obituary, one which attempted to reflect on a life in which Ewing's team had engineered an amazing turnaround.

To understand the context of Tiffany Bashore's coaching career, you must understand Ewing, and New Jersey. The town of Ewing is located right over the border of Trenton, the state capitol. It is a place which, like many municipalities in New Jersey, fiercely guards the autonomy of its school district.

As such, demographic changes tend to affect a school district extremely quickly. For the latter part of the 1980s through the 1990s, there has been a slow migration of the African American community into the school districts around Trenton.

White flight ensued, which was tragic for the Ewing program. Some of the best area field hockey players of the 1990s -- including a pair of age-group national team members -- had Ewing addresses, but played for one of the eight private Mercer County schools.

African American participation in field hockey being as low as it is in this country, very few players could replace the departing talent. Ewing teams suffered through the late 1980s and early 1990s, at one point losing some 69 straight games.

Too, there seemed to be a "revolving-door" approach to the field hockey coaching position. A coach would come in, only to leave the following season due to the part-time nature of the job. Not even a Trenton State College legend nor a soon-to-be U.S national team member could stop the bleeding.

And then, Tiffany Bashore came along.

She did not care about a player's age, skin color, or skill level, but she believed in the ability of that player to succeed.

And, she believed that she could do the job if given the opportunity to coach for more than one year. She stayed for three, and brought the Blue Devils to within one game of making the New Jersey state tournament.

You could see the attitude in the players. They were no longer the pushovers of Ewing teams past. They were not the ragamuffin squad slapped together just to meet Title IX standards at the school.

The game of field hockey mattered to the players, and it was beginning to matter to the township of Ewing. The town has had sporting heroes before, but not like the 1996 field hockey team, which made an heroic charge late in the season in an attempt to secure a state playoff berth for the first time in recent memory, but came up a game short.

And then, the terrible news came that May evening.

It has not been an easy road for the Ewing program in dealing with the loss of Tiffany Bashore. Reminders are everywhere, especially with the field having been rededicated to her.

Many of the seniors of the 1998 Ewing team had their first playing experiences with her at the helm, and have had perhaps the hardest time dealing with the subsequent coaching changes which, until recently, had become annual again.

Tiffany Bashore is, to me, a series of images and voices today. I could almost see her smiling from above when, to the music of "Candle In The Wind," the 16 members of the Ewing team laid flowers at the base of the scoreboard the opening game of the 1997 season.

But there is another voice -- hers -- which I carry with me. Just after the opening game of the 1996 season, in which Ewing beat Pennington, I lost my Radio Shack stereo tape recorder.

Nine days after Tiffany Bashore's death, one of my newspaper colleagues came to me and said, "I think I have something for you. Do you want to come and claim it?"

It was the old tape recorder, with a tape still in it which was an old "cassingle" which I recorded over by sticking tape over the holes on the top edge of the casing (we Puerto Ricans never waste anything).

I thought nothing of the tape's contents until I listened to it out of curiosity during one of the frequent traffic jams over one of the bridges from Trenton to Morrisville, Pa..

Over the speaker came a voice from beyond.

It was Tiffany Bashore.

She spoke about her optimism from that magical 1996 season when the Devils almost won a state title berth, and that the team "would not settle for less."

Every member of that 1996 team now has a copy of what she said, and I hope they listen to it often. I certainly do.

I also carry her words with me, wherever I go. On the back of my business card, I have printed Tiffany Bashore's Game Plan, and field hockey figures from all over the country have hopefully been able to take her wisdom and put it to good use, both in sport and in life.

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