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Pat Ryan
December 09, 1968
Women field hockey players met in New Jersey to fight for places on the U.S. team and, while there was nothing ladylike in the way they blackened eyes and broke knuckles, they kept the amenities
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December 09, 1968

Tea And Shiners In Glassboro

Women field hockey players met in New Jersey to fight for places on the U.S. team and, while there was nothing ladylike in the way they blackened eyes and broke knuckles, they kept the amenities

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The hockey players on the 25 teams that came to Glassboro for the national tournament were, for the most part, physical education teachers who coach the sport in high schools and colleges across the country and who play on weekends in club competition. "We worry and sweat and have to psych ourselves like professional athletes," says Faye Bardman, a member of the 1967 national team and the coach at Penn. "This is an entirely different kind of hockey than what my team plays at Penn. The girls there go out for hockey so they won't get fat."

Few socialites reach national team caliber—most of the players in the tournament first took up hockey in public high schools—though this does not mean there has been any break with hockey's aristocratic past. One competitor at Glassboro was overheard complaining about the minuscule coverage of the event in The New York Times: "It must be a Democratic newspaper," she huffed.

In age the players ranged from phys. ed. college students of 19 or 20 to matrons in their 50s. In the 1967 tournament the New Atlantic team had four players over 45. It was referred to as the Medicare Squad. ("I've had the grace to retire," one middle-aged Bostonian said acidly when the subject of old hockey players came up.)

Some sections of the country sent one team to Glassboro, some two and Philadelphia, the stronghold of hockey (its first team has only once been beaten in a tournament by another U.S. squad), sent five. Ten of the 11 players on the 1967 national team were from the Philadelphia area or had once lived there.

When the ladies got down to the hacking and the slashing last Thursday—Thanksgiving Day, mind you—Philadelphia appeared still to have a grip on the sport. In a frigid downpour, from 8:30 in the morning until dark, women clad only in cotton blouses and skirts charged up and down muddy fields. The selectors of the national team, seven formidable ladies bundled like Green Bay fans, strode the sidelines eying talent. In this tournament it mattered not if you won or lost, but how you played, for the U.S. team is picked on an individual basis. By Thursday evening Philadelphia teams had won three of four games against squads from other parts of the country.

But just when Philadelphia seemed supreme it suffered a stunning upset. On Friday afternoon its first team met a touring Dutch squad in what amounted to an exhibition game. The Dutch side included only four members of the Netherlands national team; the other seven players were inexperienced and had been sent on tour to become more seasoned. Philadelphia Captain Vonnie Gros was confident of winning. For the first half the teams played skillful, free-flowing hockey, the finest to be seen at the tournament. Neither side scored. Early in the second half, however, the Dutch gained two quick goals. The Philadelphians fell apart and were wiped out 6-0.

Then on Saturday afternoon the best Philadelphia players had difficulty winning a match against a weak Great Lakes eleven. "Some of those Philadelphia girls are looking old," a longtime coach remarked. The selectors began to look elsewhere for candidates with the stickwork, coordination, speed, innate aggressiveness and attitude needed in international play. From the back of a dump truck they peered over the playing fields. Ultimately, however, they chose seven players from the Philadelphia area to provide the core of the national squad. An eighth player was trained in Philadelphia schools. The other three named to the team are, significantly, young college students. But the new team scarcely lacks experience. The 11 women have played hockey for a total of 137 years, or about 12� years per person.

As usual in national and international field hockey tournaments, no overall champion team was named. The women have never permitted titles or trophies because they believe such awards would cause ill feeling. "It might destroy the friendly atmosphere between countries," explained Grace Robertson, president of the USFHA. It is a noble principle—one that is also part of the code for summit conferences.

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