The field hockey family

Rachel Jones

Fans sit on the edges of their freezing bleacher seats while the Kent State field hockey team is tied 0-0 with its rival, Miami, on Sept. 26. On the field, freshman midfielder Rebecca Lee carries the ball down the field, takes a shot and nails it.

“Atta girl, Rebecca!” someone yells from the stands. “Way to go, Becks!”

But Lee’s relatives aren’t in the stands today. The journey from Bathurst, Australia, to Murphy-Mellis Field is a little too far.

Instead, the dozens of parents who drive in from closer cities to watch the games support Lee and the rest of the team. Although five of the players come from foreign countries, nobody on the team is even from Ohio. The parents who do come to most of the games take it upon themselves to almost “adopt” the other players, cheering for them as much as they do their own daughters.

“We get a lot of support from everybody at some point,” said Cathy Camut. “We have a pretty good family.”

After replacing last year’s “senior mom,” Camut is the head of this field hockey family. The culture began five years ago to support the players whose families couldn’t always make the games and bring the parents that can closer together. The soft-spoken mother of sophomore forward Andrea keeps the connection by e-mailing every parent and organizing the team’s home game tailgates.

“All of our parents volunteer and get together with the coaches to set up the meals,” Camut said. “The parents from overseas will send in donations, too.”

While the parents make a point to bring homemade dishes for the homesick players, Barbara Willders said the tailgate menu ranges from pizza and cold-cut sandwiches to grilled entrées. The families, players and coaches gather in the Varsity K Room or another lounge in the stadium for their traditional, pre-game feasts.

“We all just sit around and talk,” Camut said. She runs her fingers through her short, brown hair, searching for more descriptions of the tailgates. But the simplicity of the meal is what makes it so significant to the players and parents. “It gives (the team) a family feel.”

The sisterly nature of the players is evident by the encouragements made on the field and the jokes cracked on the sidelines. Members of the offense, including Lee, Debbie Bell and Amanda Hoffman, even have identical triangles outlined on their left hands. All of the players are as united as the points of those thin, black lines.

“The girls are already together every day from August to November,” explained Camut. “They’re like a big sisterhood.”

And parents also form life-long friendships through field hockey. From the opposite side of the field, they appear as a blue and gold mass, huddled closely in the middle section of bleachers.

“I come to support my daughter, but it’s a lot of fun,” Willders said, flashing a smile to the surrounding mothers. “We have a great group of parents here.” The collection of Kent State ensembles nods in agreement, as if they were each remembering a fun time together.

Willders’s daughter, sophomore goalkeeper Kirstin, does not get much playing time, but Barbara doesn’t mind making the five-hour commute from Lititz, Pa. Like most of the parents, Willders stays at hotels during her frequent expeditions. She has also stayed at her daughter’s off-campus residence. Parents who are farther away, like Felicity Johl, who flew from Hamilton, New Zealand, must schedule their trips far in advance.

“I’m here for two weeks, and I’ll travel to the games while in the states,” Johl said, nonchalantly tucking her hands into the pouch of her “Kent State Mom” sweatshirt. It’s as if the 30-hour flight to see her daughter, junior back Carla Johl, were a trip to the grocery store. “I just try to fit in as any games as I can in a holiday.”

Tracie Espy of Fortworth, Texas, also catches games during vacations. Her daughter, sophomore forward Ashley, is sidelined with an injury, but Tracie still comes to show her support for the team and visit her favorite player.

“I don’t get off as much as I’d like to, or I would be here (more),” Espy said. But if she can’t be there, Tracie said she knows Ashley still has parents to turn to. “It helps knowing my daughter has a place to go when I’m so far away.”

Even when she can’t attend games, Espy supports the players, following them on a game-tracking website. The hour and a half trip from Wexford, Pa., makes it easy for Camut to see all of the home games, but she follows away games online, too.

“I’ll be standing up, cheering in my living room,” Camut said, laughing. Her tiny arms, swallowed in a Kent State field hockey sweatshirt, jut toward the sky as she demonstrates her victory dance.

While not as many parents attend the away games, Camut explained the team still gets their support in forms of snack bags for the bus. The parents who travel to the away games deliver the treats before the players depart.

Senior forward Katie George said long bus rides, like the six-hour journey the Flashes took to Central Michigan on Oct. 1, are more enjoyable with the care packages.

“We get these goody bags with Gatorades and lots of candy,” George said. “It’s comforting.”

Back on Murphy-Mellis Field, the halftime whistle blows. The seasoned fans shuffle to the grass opening behind the stands, avoiding the spray of the powerful water cannons that will drench the field, making it easier to hit the ball in the second half.

Some venture off to the restroom or parking lot, but most of them stand in small groups, catching up with the people they just spent 35 minutes sitting next to. The parents only vocalize during games to congratulate players, encourage promising plays or complain to referees, so this time is for non-field hockey conversations with their bleacher buddies.

Throughout the friendly chatter, several eyes dart towards the scoreboard, making sure they do not miss a minute of playing time. A few seconds before the game resumes, parents are back in their designated seats. Their players need them.

E-mail sports reporter Rachel Jones at [email protected].