From The Stands: Reliving Field Hockey Glory Days

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Earlier this month, I emerged from the Southampton Town Recreation Center on a Monday night sweaty, sore and spent. There was a bruise on my shin, a smoldering fire in my lungs, and the knowledge that walking would be a serious and painful challenge for the next few days.

It was the most fun I’d had in a while.

On Monday nights at SYS this spring, the indoor rink belonged to field hockey. Not for offseason high school practices, college showcases or youth clinics—the players in attendance weren’t thinking about potential scholarships or honing their skills for a county championship run. For most of them, those kind of concerns hadn’t been relevant for well over a decade.

To be there that night, most of them had made babysitting arrangements before digging old wooden sticks out of the deep recesses of attics and garages for an hour-long trip down memory lane.

Molly Bishop, a 1997 Southampton graduate, was the catalyst for the Monday night pick-up games that started in March. Bishop put the word out on social media to see if any of her fellow hockey alums would be interested in dusting off their sticks and playing for one hour a week. She reserved just two weeks of rink space initially, not sure how many 30-something former players like herself would have the time, energy or desire to play a sport they hadn’t played since they were teenagers.

Fast-forward three months, and Bishop is now in the middle of securing use of a high school field this summer to keep up with the demand for weekly pick-up games.

“I was afraid people actually wouldn’t show up, but we’ve had a great crowd every week,” she said.

So why would a bunch of women, many of them now mothers, want to risk injury, stress their muscles, and take time out of their busy schedules just to play an obscure high school sport for an hour? Two words, and two names, sum it up—tradition and nostalgia; Chris Holden and Debbie Jayne.

In the mid- and late 1990s, the era when most of the Monday night players were high school competitors, both Southampton and Pierson were powerhouse programs within their respective classifications, coached by women now recognized as among the best in Long Island history—Holden at Southampton and Jayne at Pierson.

Southampton was a state finalist in Class C in 1997 and 1998, and won the state championship the next year, while Pierson made states in Class D for three straight years, 1996 through 1998, making the finals in 1997 and 1998.

Bishop was an All-State starting sweeper for the Mariners in 1997 before continuing her career at C.W. Post. Mary Finalborgo, a 1999 graduate who also plays on Monday nights, was a two-time All-State player for the Mariners. The night I played, Pierson was represented by Katy (Lowe) Berkoski (All-Conference midfielder, 1999 graduate), Rosemary Moore (All-State center forward, 2000 graduate), and myself (all-nothing defender, 1999 graduate).

More recent graduates get into the mix as well, such as Nina Hemby, a Bridgehampton student who was a standout defender for the Whalers when they went to states in 2010. Current Pierson field hockey coach Shannon Judge, a Centereach graduate from the same era, also plays on Monday nights.

And then there is Iffy, the lone male player. Iffy, a native of Pakistan who works at the Southampton 7-Eleven, is an ever-present reminder that while field hockey is mainly a girls sport in this country, it’s just as common for boys to play in most other parts of the world. Iffy is somewhat of an honorary Southampton alum; Bishop met him in 1997 when he was working at the Sunoco gas station. She had pulled in to get gas and saw him playing field hockey in the parking lot, with a tennis ball.

“His skills blew me away,” she said. “I was convinced that he had to come to practice with us at school and teach us. I was somewhat of a wild child, a thorn in Ms. Holden’s side at the time. The next day, I picked up Iffy and brought him to practice. Ms. Holden was not amused. I think her exact words were: ‘Molly, you can’t just pick up strange men at gas stations and bring them to high school girls practices.’ I begged her to just watch his stick skills and think about letting him teach us what he could. He has been a part of the Southampton field hockey story ever since.”

The lasting impact that Holden and Jayne had on their players and the immense success both programs enjoyed goes a long way to explaining why the sport is still such a draw for myself and other former players. But, perhaps more than anything else, a simple love of the game keeps us coming back.

“I’m drawn to it because it was a big part of my life, and now to be able to reflect back on that part of my life, I’m able to see that it taught me more about the life I want to lead then I’ve ever given it credit for,” Moore said. “It’s rare for me to be able to play with teammates I grew up playing with. But when I do I feel overwhelmed with nostalgia and pride. I think that says a lot about the bonds that were created back then, that they were real and we accomplished so much together.”

Bishop agrees that maintaining those bonds that were formed so many years ago—from early morning preseason practices in the heat of August, to state tournament games on snow-covered fields in upstate New York—is a compulsion that’s hard to ignore.

“It’s great to stay connected with girls I played with,” she said. “For most of us, we played for Chris Holden, and she had very high expectations of us. She taught us a lot about commitment, respect and hard work. And I think for most of us it’s also a huge sense of pride that we were part of building a program that earned state recognition.”

“It’s awesome,” Finalborgo said. “Most of us are moms now, so our entire perspective has changed. We could never be as invested in the outcome of a sports game the way you are when you’re in high school and it seems like your whole world. But the love of game is still there, and there are small moments when you feel like nothing has changed. But then you come to and realize you can barely breathe and probably won’t be able to walk tomorrow.”

That realization hit me pretty hard that Tuesday morning. And Wednesday. And Thursday.

But the feeling of stopping a pass with a block tackle, and hearing an old teammate call me “Cay,” made it all worth it.

Cailin Riley is the sports editor for the Press News Group.

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