By Al Mattei


Rullo Stadium on the campus of the University of Delaware is usually the loneliest place in the northwestern part of the state on Saturday nights in the fall.

The complex, usually busy with activity on most days and the occasional night field hockey or soccer game, is often dark on weekends, a fact not unnoticed by Willie Miranda, the head field hockey coach at Wilmington Brandywine (Del.).

"We are showcasing the best players in Delaware, and that's why we do it: I invite college coaches from around the area," Miranda says. "The kids love to play here because this is how the game should be played: on AstroTurf."

Since 1999, Miranda has performed a special role in Delaware field hockey: that of matchmaker. For two weekends a year, he has set up what he has called "The Turf Bowl" -- a field hockey extravaganza featuring the best field hockey teams in the state.

"I try to get the most competitive games on the turf," Miranda says. "The Turf Bowl contains the 10 best teams; the next week, we rotate teams in and out to give everyone in the state a chance."

The games, especially the ones later in the day, have become local happenings in The First State. Fans are bused in from the schools, and cheer passionately as if it was a night football game.

"I got 18 teams to come here (in 2000) on two days," he said. "If we can expose field hockey for what it should be, then we hope to get parents and the community to get behind us to support the game. Everybody wins."

The thrill of playing on turf also adds excitement to the win. On this night, Wilmington Mt. Pleasant (Del.) beats Miranda's Brandywine squad, and the cheers emanating from the green-clad winners is of the same intensity as a team that wins a state championship.

"This is a huge event," said Jill Weideman, the Mt. Pleasant head coach. "When you have grass, and it's not well kept, this is a real treat for the girls. This is an outstanding place for us to play, not only because it provides them an opportunity for them to play on a big-time level, it allows the fans to come and see them. It's a positive thing for field hockey."

Miranda is able to get Delaware's turf through a rental agreement, partially defrayed through ticket sales. His plans for the future include sponsorship dollars as well as invitations for nearby schools in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and southern New Jersey.

"I'll try to get some more college people here, and to get it bigger and better," Miranda says.