JOHNSTOWN - With an eye on the future, the U.S. Field Hockey Association came up with a way to introduce young players to the sport.
The organization developed the FUNdamental Field Hockey Program for boys and girls seventh grade and younger. To do this, U.S. Field Hockey came up with a plan to help fund the programs.
"In April, I noticed on U.S. Field Hockey's website that they were offering a grant for a FUNdamental Field Hockey Program," Johnstown High School junior varsity coach Christine Krempa said. "The grant was for existing programs or new programs that were looking for youth seventh grade and under. They really wanted to get sticks into the hands of as many kids as possible. I knew that for this coming fall in September and October, we were going to start a program for the third to sixth graders."
Krempa applied for the grant and was notified in late May that Johnstown was one of two New York programs that were approved to receive a grant.
"I was ecstatic," coach Krempa said, who recently found out that only 50 programs in the U.S. received the grant. "It came with 30 youth field hockey sticks, cones, balls and a coaching guide."
For more than 30 years, the Johnstown field hockey program has helped introduce players to the sport and teach the basic skills through a summer league.
"One of the challenges we have with the summer league is that when we get new kids, especially the young ones, they don't have equipment," Krempa said. "A lot of us have older equipment, but the sticks are too long for the younger kids."
The Johnstown school district provides for its students to play field hockey on the varsity, junior varsity and modified levels. However, districts all around the state have been looking at ways to reduce their budgets.
"Luckily we still have modified field hockey, but who knows how long that is going to last. Realistically, we don't know," Krempa said. "In order for Johnstown to continue to be a good, quality program, we certainly don't want to lose the modified program, but if that ever happens, we don't want the kids to be picking up a stick for the first time in ninth grade."
Krempa said the FUNdamental Field Hockey program may provide the opportunity for younger players much the way other youth programs do for soccer, football, baseball and basketball.
"What we are trying to do is build a true feeder program," she said. "We have summer league two nights a week for six weeks and that is for grades K through 12. We get those kids, they come and love it, but then they have no other outlet. So now, come September, they will be able to have a stick in their hands in September and October."
The Johnstown FUNdamental Field Hockey program will join with groups from Saratoga, Shenendehowa, Niskayuna, Columbia, Bethlehem, Scotia, Hoosick Falls, Guilderland, Burnt Hills and Shaker.
"One of the reasons for us to start this program was to provide another option for boys and girls," Krempa said. "The grant wants just as many boys playing as girls because the national men's program is also trying to build. When we get into the league, it will be two practices a week for about and hour, hour and an half. So far, there are three definite game days and they are round robin. It will be a four- or five-hour day where we play 20 minute games, where we play everybody."
When notified of receiving the grant, Krempa quickly got the word out to students and began registering interested players. Then, the league had an open registration during the first week of June.
"I wanted to do it before all the kids got out of school," Krempa said. "We got the slips into teacher's mailboxes and they went home with the kids. We had 20 sign up that night, which I thought was fantastic for June for a program that wasn't going to start until September. Now, since field hockey started summer league last week, six more have signed up. I think we will pick up a few more. Thirty is our goal."
While the teams will play competitive games, Krempa stressed the emphasis will not be on winning or losing, but rather teaching the game.
"The emphasis will be on having fun," she said. "We are not keeping score, obviously goals will be scored, but there will not a winner or loser. It is just for these kids to get the experience, get out on the field, hear the whistle blow and know what the fouls are.
It is all about fun at that age, getting the stick in their hands, fundamental skills and having fun. If the kids aren't having fun, they are not going to want to play and they aren't going to want to stick around with us."
The team will be under the guidance of Lady Bills' coaching staff, including former varsity coach Quinn Swartwout.
"We are really excited about the program," Krempa said. "Quinn is looking forward to working with the program. She has been itching to get back with the program and this is a perfect opportunity for her. We are real excited about having her back and she is very good with that age."
The field hockey program has a reputation of success that has kept players inspired to be a part of the program. In 2011, the Johnstown field hockey team won the Section II championship and advanced to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association tournament.
"On the flier we gave to the kids, I had no qualms about putting on there about how we won 14 sectional championships, eight regional championships and four state championships," Krempa said. "It is a good-quality program and the kids we have signed up are excited about becoming part of that."
For more information or to sign up, email Krempa at email@example.com.