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Field hockey clinic aims to restore interest in Hatfield

  • Judy Strong coaches a group of Hatfield girls during a field hockey clinic, Monday. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A group of Hatfield girls run a drill during a field hockey clinic, Monday at Smith College. Smith Academy alumna Judy Strong and several current high school players are offering the clinic as a way to increase participation in the town. Smith Academy’s numbers have fallen in recent years. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Judy Strong coaches Morgan Renner, 7, of Hatfield, during a field hockey clinic, Monday at Smith College. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Judy Strong coaches Kara Wilcox, 10, of Hatfield, during a field hockey clinic, Monday, Aug. 12, 2019 at Smith College. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Judy Strong coaches Sofia Robinson, 8, of Hatfield, during a field hockey clinic, Monday at Smith College. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 8/12/2019 9:25:45 PM

NORTHAMPTON — There is a barn on Bridge Street in Hatfield that conjures up old memories.

A side of the barn facing the road has a painted message honoring Smith Academy’s 22-0 championship-winning field hockey team from 1993.

Almost 20 years later, the Falcons might not have a junior varsity team this fall due to dwindling participants. A clinic organized by Hatfield native and former Olympian Judy Strong, with help from current high school athletes, aims to reinvigorate interest in the sport among girls from Hatfield.

Strong participated in the 1984 Summer Olympics as a member of the Women’s National Team and won a bronze medal. As a Smith Academy alumna, she wants to do all she can to keep the program alive.

“I think there is so much history, it’s not just me,” said Strong on Smith Academy’s field hockey program. “This sport cannot die in Hatfield and we have to keep it going and keep the excitement going. ... Who wouldn’t want to paint something up on the barn?”

The idea of the clinic was spurred by this fall season’s senior captain, Carly Guimond.

Guimond attended a couple of MIAA meetings that revolved around youth sports, and she started a dialogue with Strong on the idea of running a free three-week clinic to spur interest in the sport among girls from Hatfield. The program is being held at Smith College. Monday was the second of three days.

The high school program has seen its numbers of participants shrink for consecutive seasons. As one of the smallest public schools in the state, getting enough players to field a team has always been tough, especially with the popularity of soccer in the area.

“We’ve got a small school and we have to divide up the talent,” Strong said.

Strong reached out to sponsors like the Hatfield Booster Club and Penn Monto Field Hockey to help fund the event. Penn Monto donated equipment for athletes to use throughout the clinic.

At first, the camp was limited to fourth, fifth and sixth graders. Then Strong heard from friends that their younger-aged daughters wanted to come, so they expanded the ages to first through sixth grade.

Hatfield resident Ann Valentine is also assisting with the clinic. Her daughter, Makena Valentine, is a member of the varsity team and is going to be a sophomore this fall.

When Valentine was in fourth grade, she attended a summer field hockey clinic. She remembers looking up to the high school kids that volunteered; now she is able to be a mentor for the next generation of players.

“It’s cool because I used to be one of the little girls, now I am one of the older girls and I get to show them how to play,” Makena Valentine said. “It’s fun showing them the way.”

Strong was proud of how open the high school athletes were to volunteering for the clinic.

“I am one piece of the puzzle,” Strong said. “I can tell my stories and coach, but they have been great role models. I am very proud of them. ... For these kids to see them out there having a good time and loving the sport, all it takes is one kid to latch on to that role model. It is a huge piece that they are giving back.”

Sophomore Crista Kemp volunteered to help coach the three-week clinic and she has had the opportunity to coach her younger sister, Shae.

“It’s really cool,” Crista Kemp said. “I love field hockey, so watching her share something I love and being able to teach her and help her out is cool.”

The clinic is only the beginning. If enough girls want to keep playing after it’s finished, Strong hopes to start a youth team in the fall for middle school-aged girls to join and play against other area teams.

“Our goal is when those sixth graders come up into high school, they are ready to play,” Strong said.

Smith Academy field hockey has an illustrious past and the clinic’s organizers hope that this is the first step in getting the program back to competing on the big stage.

“In the next two or three years I have left at Smith Academy, I want to make it to states and Western Mass. and win,” Makena Valentine said. “Make people feel like field hockey is a winning sport.”

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