At that historic face-off in Glassboro, when Lyndon Johnson jostled Alexei Kosygin for the big ball, they played the game in a college president's front parlor and were careful not to break the furniture. Last week, however, a group of women who have found parlor games too confining were gathered in the same small New Jersey town, and Johnson and Kosygin would have blanched at the girls' free-swinging, go-for-broke style—broken noses, broken knuckles, broken teeth. The nation's 275 best field hockey players were competing for the 11 places on the U.S. national team, and in the scuffle shins were bruised, eyes blackened and heads knocked silly; on one occasion an ambulance had to be summoned to deliver a player to the emergency ward. Such mutilation is commonplace in field hockey, the only ladies' sport that combines physical mayhem with social grace.
The game was introduced in this country in 1901 by an Englishwoman, Miss Constance Applebee, who recommended it as a healthy activity for young suffragettes at Vassar, Wellesley, Smith and Bryn Mawr. "It develops strong nerves, willpower, determination, discipline and endurance," Miss Applebee declared. "It gives a girl physical and mental strength." Miss Applebee went from school to school pulling virtues out of her sack of shinny sticks, and quickly young women in Boston and Philadelphia took up the cudgel.
Constance Applebee is the model of a field hockey player. At 90 she climbed 16 flights of steps in a New York hotel when the elevator broke down and she became impatient at the delay in repairing it. At 93 she was running a knitting and crafts program for—as she described them—"old people." At 94 she still coached hockey. Now 95, she has reluctantly retired as a coach because of failing eyesight.
Graying Philadelphia socialites, surrounded by their servants and Steuben glassware, recall with zest their Spartan days as fullback at Main Line schools and their confrontations with "The Apple" (so called by her students because of her crunch and tartness). Generation after generation of debutantes were scolded and barked at—"Stand up, you big hippopotamus. Run, you giraffe. God gave you legs, now use them."
From the beginning, field hockey was an upper-class pastime. At Glassboro last week Bess Taylor, the left wing on a 1908 Haddonfield, N.J. team, recalled that in her day only girls listed in the Social Register were accepted on Philadelphia's first team.
Over the years bruises and broken bones have not diminished the enthusiasm of Philadelphia's private schools for hockey. Usually run by schoolmarms who think chilblains are a healthy experience for young women, hockey is considered one of the few surviving vestiges of the old no-nonsense education. No one seems to mind that, at times, debs (and sometimes their mothers) walk with a stiff-legged gait.
The game fosters other social graces. Players shake hands before competition begins, and last week, as always, there were ladylike cheers before and after games for opposing sides and much genteel chatter: "Good morning, Philly..." "Nice game, Great Lakes..." "Thank you, officials."
Through the years the custom of afternoon tea following games has continued. The players, their hair often wet with sweat and their strong hands reddened by the autumn cold, are served tea from shining silver pots. At Glassboro there were flickering candles and flowers on long, linen-covered tables and four hostesses pouring in a hushed, darkened room. The conversation, however, was not always what one would expect in such a setting. One overheard sentences like. "She is dizzy and can't focus properly." "She was hit on the head and is paralyzed down one side."
Officials of the United States Field Hockey Association prefer to turn a deaf ear to such conversations. They consider the discussion of injuries idle and ugly talk. The establishment view is that "players are only injured if they are unskilled," and never mind the glorious shiner being shyly shielded by a redhead at the Glassboro tea.
But the truth, as amply displayed in the games at Glassboro, is that field hockey is a hard-running, hard-hitting game—tea with lumps. As in soccer, no time outs or substitutions are allowed, and the women keep lunging and tackling and swinging through two 30-minute periods.