Once a prominent sport in lower Sussex County, field hockey has fallen off within the past decade at both the middle school and high school levels within the Indian River School District.
One of the main reasons for the schools’ struggles has been the lack of a feeder program to develop local youth in the sport early on — which has become almost a necessity for less populated school districts, with students now having school choice options.
“There are other options, when in the past they didn’t have those options to go elsewhere,” said Indian River High School field hockey head coach Jodi Stone on the program’s recent struggles. “My seniors that just graduated. They have all played for seven years. They started in sixth grade, played three years of middle school and four years of high school — they’ve had five different coaches.”
Now creating some coaching consistency headed into her second year, Stone has teamed up with Millsboro Middle School coaches Pattiva Cathell and Molly Chamberlin to launch the area’s first field hockey camp — the first step toward their collective goal of making the district competitive again.
“I feel like the reason that it’s kind of gone downhill is there’s no feeder program, and then there’s no consistency with coaching. We’re really trying to hit those two points,” Chamberlin explained.
“I think that a feeder program is essential for high schools,” Cathell added. “By the time they get to the high school, a player should be competitive and be able to understand when to pass the ball and when to keep the ball, what to do on a corner — and I’m seeing even at the high school level [Coach Stone] is getting a ninth-grader who’s athletic who has ability to do some basic moves but doesn’t understand even basic terminology.”
All three coaches said that, most of the time, local players aren’t even seeing the sport until sixth grade or later, and introducing them to the basics early on will allow them to develop more advanced skills as they progress, to be able to compete with larger programs.
“When we decided to really contribute to the sport as a district, I felt like, ‘OK — if we’re all gonna be on the same page, we all, at every level, have to practice fundamentals,’“ Cathell said of the strategy. “Fundamentals is what is going to win games and is what’s going to carry the athlete to the next level. That’s what I hope that this camp will do, is just increase the IQ for the sport.”
The camp, which will be held at Millsboro Middle School from June 23 to June 26, will cost only $10 and is open for players of all skill levels from ages 9 through 13.
“On a trial basis — there’s no pressure at this level,” Stone noted. “They’re just still learning. Hopefully, we’ll get them hooked and they’ll like it and they’ll continue, and then they can advance their skills as they move along through the program.”
The first three days of the camp will be mostly instructional, with the last day being geared more toward tournament play, for the girls to implement what they’ve learned and get a feel for whether or not they think the sport is for them. After being introduced to the game’s main principles, they’ll also be given a packet to take home that will offer suggestions for off-season training and conditioning.
“Basically, what we’re promoting is it’s instructional, fundamental and conditioning,” said Cathell of the camp. “It’s really all fundamental things that we’re gonna be going over at camp, executing them over and over and over again, but then giving them a packet to go home with to practice everything that they saw at camp.”
Stone, Cathell and Chamberlin are all hoping that the inaugural camp sparks considerable interest and that they can expand on the program at all levels in future years — but they also know that rebuilding programs takes time, and that this is just the first step in the process.
“It’s always gonna take a couple of years, to really see results. You can see results after the first year, but it takes time,” Stone said of the expectations.
For more information on this summer’s field hockey camp or to sign up, email Molly Chamberlin at email@example.com.