Field hockey in lower Sussex County was as good as dead.
Indian River High School had gone through winless seasons. So had Sussex Central. There were countless coaching changes, no feeder programs, and as a result, not much hope, either.
Enter Jodi Stone and Molly Chamberlin — Stone the new head coach at Indian River and Chamberlin a former player for the Indians, turned coach at Millsboro Middle School — who knew they had to do something before the sport faded away for good.
“When I was at Indian River, we were a winning team,” Chamberlin recalled. “Then I went away to college and kept hearing about how the program was dying. I came back to coach and just wanted to do something about it.”
“Sussex Central was a powerhouse when I first moved here. Indian River was a powerhouse for years,” added Stone, who took over as head coach of the Indians in 2013. “Unfortunately, in this pocket of Sussex County, it’s kind of dying if somebody doesn’t take a step forward to promote it.”
Last summer, Stone and Chamberlin joined district coaches Patitva Cathell (Millsboro Middle), Sarah Layfield (Georgetown Middle), Jamie Hudson Emory (Sussex Central) and Abi Buchler (Indian River) and were the ones to step up and do just that — establishing the IRSD Field Hockey Camp in an effort to generate interest, teach players the game at a younger age and, ultimately, start up a feeder program for the district so that area schools could get back to their winning ways.
After a successful showing in the camp’s first year, both the Indians and Golden Knights saw the results last fall, with the Indians putting together their most successful season in more than a decade. Both Selbyville and Millsboro middle schools also saw better records, to go along with their increase in numbers at tryouts.
That interest kept its momentum going into year two, when the camp wrapped up its second summer last Thursday. Not only did more campers sign up, with a high percentage of returners, but after the final game, no one seemed to want to go home.
“A lot of girls, when we said we were ending games, they weren’t ready to go — they wanted to keep playing,” said Chamberlin. “There were a lot of returners.”
“They came in with a little more skillset than last time, so we kind of raised the bar,” added Stone. “It makes it easier when you understand the concepts. It’s less frustrating. It just makes it more enjoyable for everyone all the way around — spectators and players.”
Even though most of the returners had a better understanding of game, the camp still focused on rules and fundamentals for the first two days, before getting into competitive play and skill-building games, such as Hockey Baseball and Steal the Bacon.
“The first two days were drills and fundamentals, but then the last two days we made sure it was a lot of fun,” said Chamberlin, who coaches the elementary players, with Stone focusing on the middle-schoolers. “At the elementary level, my goal is just fundamentals and fun.”
Whatever their formula is, it seems to be working.
“It was fun. The coaches were good to us,” said camper Maddie Maniscalco. “It’s gonna help me with my skills — my shooting skills and my stick control.”
“It was a great experience,” added Julia Hollenbeck. “I think it helped us a lot.”
For older campers, such as Kelsey Kormanik and Jessica Snead, fun and skill development aren’t the only benefits, with both players noting the importance of getting a chance to set a good example for the younger players.
“I thought it was a great experience to help out the younger ones,” Kormanik explained. “Now that we’re in eighth grade, we can help out the elementary kids coming up and prepare them for middle-school hockey.”
“The younger players, they look up to the older kids,” said Snead. “So when they get older, they can be like us — I think it was excellent.”
And just as the middle-school players are setting the example for the elementary players, high-school players are doing the same by taking time out of their summer vacation to volunteer to help out.
“If we didn’t have these high school girls volunteering, it would have been very difficult,” Stone noted of the importance of volunteers including Kailee Abbott, Morgan Burton, Taylor Erick and Mackenzie Ankrom.
“These girls are great to have out here as role models,” added Chamberlin. “We need people involved.”
Both Stone and Chamberlin went on to note that continuing community involvement will be instrumental in the field hockey turnaround that has already begun in Lower Sussex County, especially as plans for an eventual rec-league develop.
“My next goal is to try and get some sort of recreational league started, so there isn’t that gap,” sad Chamberlin. “We just want to stick with it so we can be at that level.”
While getting together enough players, coaches and referees, and finding facilities for the league may take some time, there’s no question that the camp will be “sticking with it,” and returning for year three.
“We just love the sport so much,” said Stone. “We want to take our love and our knowledge and pass it on.”