Field hockey has traditionally been a women's sport in the United States. Few, if any, high schools currently sport men's field hockey teams. American universities spend as much money supporting men's field hockey as they do financing varsity lightweight beer-pong squads. Yet, men's field hockey is alive and, though maybe not thriving, well at Harvard as a club sport.
Though not one of the more popular sports in the United States, men's field hockey, played throughout the rest of the world, is especially popular in Western Europe and Pakistan and India, where it is the national sport. Fans estimate that is the third largest sport in the world.
Why is field hockey primarily a women's sport in the U.S. A "Why do people form baseball teams here" co-captain Mike Arbuckle asked. "In India, lacrosse is totally a women's sport," club member Sanjay Patel observed.
Not surprisingly, a large percentage of the club is foreign. Members also come from all corners of the university--the business school, the law school, even one from the med school. But the largest share, about half of the 25-man squad's membership, is from the College.
For such a small group, the club historically has fared amazingly well in inter-collegiate and inter-club competition. Last year, for example, in Washington, D.C., at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Tournament, one of the biggest men's field hockey tournaments in the country, Harvard's squad lasted four rounds before being eliminated. Lasting four rounds against teams composed of Pakistanis and Indians that practice five times a week--"Practically professional," Patel declared--was no mean feat. "If we practiced that much," Patel added, "I think we could win it."
Unfortunately, the club had to bypass the Washington tournament this year due to lack of enthusiasm; only two members, two shy of the requisite twelve, signed up to go. The two weekly pratices, Wednesday and Sunday, usually attract between eight and fifteen, "though occasionally less than that," club co-captain Drew Stone admitted.
But, according to Stone, matters should change for the better soon. "We just had a poster made up which is going to be distributed all over campus, and we're hoping we can broaden our base of players," he added.
The team opens its season later this month with the almost annual game against Yale (last year's game was cancelled because the Eli's couldn't field a team). Princeton, the only other Ivy League club, may also travel to New Haven, making the weekend's matches an Ivy League Championship for all intents and purposes. The club also plans to schedule matches against the New York Islanders field hockey club and a Greenwich club.
The club regularly scrimmages with the women's team during its Wednesday afternoon practices. The rules are fundamentally the same for both the men's and women's sport, but men's field hockey is played at a quicker pace. "The men's game is much faster. The rules aren't quite as strictly enforced. Consequently, it's a harder hitting game, although it's non-contact like soccer," Stone explained.
And so, when eight members of the men's club scrimmage against eleven members of the women's team, the men usually earn a tie or better.
Although the club's purpose is "to provide a chance to play a great sport," Arbuckle said, it is not overly competitive. "We're just a group a people interested in playing a fun sport at a competitive level," Stone agreed.
Beginners as well as seasoned veterans are welcome to hand over the ten dollars yearly dues and join the club on the B-school fields. "Obviously, it will take time to acquire the skills to be good. But at the same time, it will be fun," Patel predicted, adding, "You don't have to be amazingly serious."
Being athletic, in the opinion of some, also doesn't seem to matter. "It's a good sport because you can play if you're spastic; I haven't found it too difficult. It keeps people off the streets," sophomore novice Jay Berinstein concluded.
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