Crushing it: New field hockey & basketball programs rise in Kennett Square
At first glance, it seemed to be a very unlikely pairing, but if you looked closely, one could almost see the seeds being planted for what could change the course of how girls' field hockey is coached and played in southern Chester County for generations to come.
On the damp, late afternoon of May 22 at Legacy Field in Kennett Square, Rolf van de Kerkof, the head coach of the University of Delaware's 2016 Division I national champion field hockey team gave tutorials on the sport to nearly 30 young attackers, middies and defenders from kindergarten through the fourth grade.
Protected by mouth guards, shin guards, and face masks, they were put through their paces in order to sharpen their passing and receiving skills. On the sidelines, a growing group of older girls from the 5th to the 11th grade waited patiently for the second leg of the clinic.
It was part of a three-day, on-field tutorial sponsored by the Kennett Crush field hockey team, a newly-formed wing of the Kennett Crush sports program, which formed last year to provide young athletes with a chance to compete on higher levels and participate in travel tournaments.
About a year ago, program founder Dawn Carter and her colleague Sean Simmons were coaching youth basketball on both local YMCA and recreational leagues, when they recognized a need to create a platform for young athletes whose talent level needed more on-court competition. They subsequently chose ten players from these leagues, asked them to come up with a name for their new program, and the Kennett Crush basketball team was formed last September. The 12-member squad, made up of fourth- and fifth-graders, played in tournaments in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware through May, when the team finished in first place in their last tournament of the season.
“We built a mission statement, began to put the pieces together and received initial donations,” said Carter, an employee of Concsentra Health Care, who gave her $2,000 in start-up cost to pay for uniforms and help defray initial travel costs. “Now, the number of players we have has increased to more than 20, which has enabled us to form a second youth basketball team.”
Nadiene Ringler-Friedrich and Chrissy Schwarz began the Blue Demons recreational field hockey program with Susan Gaughan three years ago, which has grown during that time to now include 150 participants. Forming a partnership with Carter earlier this year with the idea of creating a field hockey team under the Kennett Crush umbrella, the Kennett Crush field hockey team took to the field for their first practice in April.
"Because of the success of this recreational program, the desire for higher level of play was created," said Ringler-Friedrich, whose 11-year-old daughter Izzy plays on the team. "If we had not established the rec program first, I don’t believe the opportunity for travel would have been relevant.
“We're opening doors for young field hockey players to develop their skills before they reach middle school and high school competition, to give them the same opportunities that many of the other school districts already provide. Chrissy and I are trying to level the playing field and build for the future.”
Even in its infancy, the Crush has already experienced success. During the Weekend of May 20, it defeated four travel teams en route to winning the Philly Turf Cup in Aston, Pa. in the tournament's 12-and-under division.
As Coach van de Kerkof continued to direct dozens of young field hockey – and as 75 slightly older players waited to take their place – Ringler-Friedrich motioned to the clinic.
“Will we be able to offer that higher level of play for all 105 young girls here today?” she asked. “Probably not immediately, but are we going to start small and grow big? That's our hope. The parents are committed. We as coaches are committed. We need everyone to work in moving forward in order for this program to succeed.”
Following the clinic, the Kennett Crush will hold tryouts in the summer for both field hockey and basketball, and plans to participate in three tournaments this fall.
“The youth is where it's at,” said Schwarz, whose 8-year-old daughter Margo is the youngest member of the Crush. “You have to get them young, get them interested, get them trained in the fundamentals, and then you get to hand them to the middle school and then the high schools. If we develop proper feeder program for these schools, then the future of field hockey here will be golden. This is just a small piece of the puzzle that's been missing in the area for awhile.
“It's all about growing the game in this community, and the pennies are right off the press.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.