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Far afield

BY DANNY PAYNE | NOVEMBER 13, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Iowa field-hockey team has an impressive résumé. It is the only women’s program in university history to win a national championship — which it did in 1986. Further, the team recently ended its season as Big Ten Tournament runner-up. And under head coach Tracey Griesbaum, it finished its 12th winning season in the last 14 years.

But one other thing differentiates the team from every other Iowa athletics program: It’s the only team that cannot recruit in the state of Iowa. Not one high-school field-hockey program exists within its borders.

Field hockey is not sanctioned by the Iowa Girls High School Athletics Union, and there are no programs registered with USA Field Hockey. In other words, the most successful women’s sport in Hawkeye history isn’t played in Iowa outside of Iowa City.

For former women’s Athletics Director Christine Grant, this absence is unfair and unjust. A lifelong advocate of gender equality in athletics, she said she believes the opportunity to play field hockey should be there for girls in Iowa.

Now retired and living in her Coralville home, she cites the National Federation of State High School Association’s Athletics Participation Survey to support her. During the 2012-13 school year, roughly 3.2 million females nationwide participated in athletics. During the 1971-72 school year, approximately 3.6 million males competed in high school sports. Grant said she finds this disparity sickening and said she wishes girls had the opportunity to play the sport she calls her first love.

She said she wants to see field hockey adopted in Iowa for many reasons, one of which is because the sport gave her so much, including the opportunity to leave her home in Scotland after meeting the Canadian touring team. Grant moved to Vancouver before relocating to Iowa and becoming the women’s athletics director in 1973, a position she held until 2000.

“Because I was involved nationally and internationally … it was because of these qualifications that I was selected for [women’s] athletics director at Iowa,” Grant said.

She said she experienced some great opportunities because of field hockey. For similar opportunities to occur for Iowa girls, there needs to be an interest to play.

If high-school officials discern an interest, a school’s Athletics Department would have to weigh the logistics of such a program, City High Athletics Director Terry Coleman said.

He said factors such as cost and finding coaches, equipment, and space to play and practice are details that would be considered.

Iowa Girls High School Athletics Union Executive Director Mike Dick said once a large enough push has been seen from high schools, the group would consider adding a sport. But as of this writing, not a sliver of interest has been reported in field hockey.

“I can honestly tell you at this point, we have received zero [interest],” Dick said. “We just haven’t gotten any push towards field hockey.”

Colemanalso said he had never heard of any interest in pursuing the sport at City High.

“For whatever reason — whether it’s historical or there are enough things for people to do, there hasn’t been anyone who has been talking about field hockey,” he said.

Grant said she thinks the sport should be offered, regardless of perceived interest or noninterest.

“In my experience, which spans over my entire [life], if you create a team, and you give them a half-decent coach and half-decent facilities — of course they will come out,” she said. “Build it, and they will come.”

A comparable sport  — and one that enjoys more popularity along the coasts — is sprawling its way into America’s Heartland.

Lacrosse and field hockey are relatively similar in more than one way. Both are played with a stick and a ball, both require a lot of running, both allow minimal contact — in the female variation — and both are much more prominent on the coasts than other areas of the country.

In fact, two current Hawkeye field hockey players were standouts in lacrosse at their respective high schools. Sophomore Natalie Cafone played four years on the varsity team at West Essex High School in North Caldwell, N.J. Freshman Jessy Silfer was an Academic All-American honoree during her senior year at Cazenovia Central High School in Cazenovia, N.Y.

For one former Hawkeye field-hockey player, who now lives in Iowa City after bouncing around the country, field hockey and lacrosse are analogous.

A member of the 1986 national championship team and partner at her law practice in Iowa City, Karen Lorenzen said she believes field hockey needs to be pushed the way lacrosse has in order to make its way into the state of Iowa.

Valley High School in West Des Moines has 57 boys on its club lacrosse team, and Waukee High School combined with Valley for a girls club that fielded 47 student-athletes. The university also has men’s and women’s club lacrosse teams.

Because of the rise of lacrosse, Lorenzen said she doesn’t see a reason field hockey couldn’t catch on the way lacrosse has.

“I think it would gain support, I think it would be a little bit of a project,” she said. “It’s just never been pushed, it’s never been offered. It’s one of those things that kids are like, ‘Oh, I think I played that in gym once.’ ”

Despite Lorenzen’s thinking, bringing field hockey to Iowa doesn’t seem like a possibility at this point. But the lack of the sport gives Iowa a unique opportunity.

Just because field hockey is exclusive to the university doesn’t mean it is irrelevant. For the Hawkeye squad, filled with some of the best college-level players from around the nation and Europe, it gives them the opportunity to put their sport on stage in front of an unfamiliar audience — and typically, there’s a solid number of fans that come to cheer on the Hawks at Grant Field.

“I think for what they maybe lack in ‘Oh [we] don’t have the little 8-, 9-, 10-year-olds coming to the game wanting autographs, they are educating human beings,’” Griesbaum said.

To illustrate that point, ask Niki Schultheis. At a Hawkeye football game in Kinnick Stadium this season, the senior said a group of field-hockey fans — “they were not students,” she noted — approached her about the sport.

“They were like, ‘Oh my god we come to all your games, but you have to explain to me some of the rules,’ ” the senior from Hamburg, Germany, said. “That was amazing to see, that there are literally people out there who have no idea what field hockey is, and they still come to our games.”

If field hockey came to Iowa, advocates say, it would allow the Hawkeyes to recruit in their own state. In addition to recruiting benefits, growing the sport would also give young girls the chance to participate and could serve as a springboard for life beyond the pitch — just as it did for Grant and Lorenzen.

But unless something changes, it just doesn’t seem as if girls in Iowa will gear up with field-hockey sticks anytime soon.

So, the Black and Gold will embrace its status as the lone field-hockey team in the Hawkeye State.

“We’re unique; we’re different. No other friends of mine can say that they have had an experience like this,” Griesbaum said. “Granted, I don’t really have a choice in it, but I’ve made the choice — and it hasn’t been hard — to just really embrace it. And not just dwell on what we don’t have but dwell more and embrace what we do have.”


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