Middle School Field Hockey

Middle School Field Hockey Program Instills Values, Skills in Students
Posted on 11/08/2022
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Franklin D. Roosevelt and Neil A. Armstrong Middle Schools are not known for their field hockey programs. Although the teams lost a lot this year, it’s not about winning for FDR’s Coach Jess Schulz and Armstrong’s Coach Colleen Donnelly – it’s about helping students learn, connect and create memories.

Field hockey is a new sport for most 7th and 8th grade students on the teams, and the girls learn quickly during the short season, which starts in mid-September and ends about a month and a half later.

“What I enjoy the most about coaching is seeking that spark when they get something right on the field,” said Donnelly, who is in her second year coaching and is a school social worker at Armstrong. “School might not be their thing, but they can excel in other areas like sports.”

In fact, both coaches recruit students who could benefit from playing a sport.

“I look for kids who have potential and maybe no one has ever told them they were good at something before,” said Schulz, who has coached six seasons at Harry S. Truman High School and four seasons at FDR. She is also the health and physical education teacher at FDR and is a proud BTSD graduate.

A couple years ago Schulz recruited a student who was shocked that anyone was interested in her other than writing her up for disciplinary reasons. Schulz saw that aggression in her and told her she would be a great fit as FDR’s goalie.

“She used that aggression and courage to step up on the field and not be afraid of players,” said Schulz, who noted that her behavior and grades improved after joining the team.

“Strong ties and relationships at school are a vehicle for change,” said Donnelly. “Students need to feel connected to school and sports are a great way to do that.”

Players may be facing struggles at home or trying to figure out who they are as they face adolescence.

“Healthy development requires being seen, and having successes and failures,” said Donnelly. “Coaching is not just teaching them how to play, but teaching them how to work through problems.”

She is proud of how her team has dealt with losses and learned how to manage their emotions in a positive way on the field.

“They lose with grace and humility,” said Donnelly. “It’s not about winning. It’s more important for players to hold each other accountable and build each other up.”

FDR’s team struggled this year with numbers. There were 16 of 23 spots filled and only four returning players. Due to this, players had to learn quickly, preserve, and hold each other accountable.

When a student was academically ineligible to play for a week, Schulz told the student to explain to her team why she couldn’t play. To get her grades up, team members offered to help and study together if they were in the same classes.

“I make sure as a student-athlete, they are a student first,” said Schulz, who tries to keep as many players on the team as possible. “I know that if they are with me after school, they are supervised, having fun, and safe, and know they are not getting into trouble.”

Schulz also loved to see the girls branch out of their social circles.

“Prior to the season, they sat at different lunch tables, and after the season, they all sat together,” she said.

Both Schulz and Donnelly instill respect and responsibility in their players.

“I always tell them to remember they are representing Bristol Township on and off the field,” said Schulz.  

Although the season is short, the players look forward to team building nights. FDR and Armstrong play against each other in a friendly rivalry during the schools’ annual fall sports night. On Rising Tigers Night, eighth graders meet the varsity coaches and team members to encourage them to continue playing in high school. FDR also has a Team Night Out at Truman’s Senior Night to watch them play.

“It’s not about the record. It’s about making memories and learning,” said Schulz.

For students who may be interested in playing field hockey, Bristol Township School District has an after-school intramural club that allows sixth graders to try field hockey and other sports. In the spring, FDR holds a skills and drills clinic to pique interest for the upcoming fall season.

“Coach Schulz and Donnelly are positive role models for our middle school field hockey teams and the District.  We are proud of how they’ve made an impact with students,” said Interim Superintendent of Schools Chris Polzer. 

FDR Field Hockey
FDR's Field Hockey team 2022

Armstrong Field Hockey
Armstrong's Field Hockey Team 2022
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