USFHA: USA Field Hockey continues a long-standing holiday tradition Thanksgiving weekend, when the sport’s national governing body hosts its National Hockey Festival, Nov. 24-27, at the Palm Beach Polo Club in Florida.
The world’s largest amateur field hockey event, the 2005 Festival features a record 223 teams from 22 states, Canada and Trinidad & Tobago. The 3,500 athletes will compete for titles in Women’s Age Group (Under 16 and Under 19), Women’s Open and Mixed (coed) divisions. A total of 709 games are scheduled on the Polo Club’s 27 fields during the event.
The Under 19 tournament is the Festival’s largest division with 140 teams competing for 20 pool championships.
In addition to providing a showcase for the sport and the chance for athletes to compete against players from across the country, the Festival allows prospective college athletes an opportunity to perform before a gallery of collegiate coaches gathered from the nation’s top programs.
As part of the original Hockey Festival in 1981, the high school division allowed teams of high school-aged players the rare opportunity to compete against other squads from across the country.
Since that time, the small tournament has evolved into the Age Group Division with the number of teams rising from 12 in 1981 to today’s total of 188.
The level of play has also skyrocketed from “the place where players learned to hold their first stick” to a competitive showcase for future national stars.
Even with more than 200 teams and 27 fields at Palm Beach Polo, USA Field Hockey must annually turn away teams from one of its premier domestic events.
In the competitive entry process, age group teams may qualify for the tournament as a result of obtaining a “legacy” status ─ a reward for teams with a history of consecutive Festival appearances prior to 2004, winning their respective pools in last year’s Festival or earning a highly-coveted spot through a lottery of registered teams in the spring.
The composition of the squads differs from team to team. The teams may represent the core of a high school squad, an all-star team selected as the result of a state or camp tryout, a local club team or simply a group of players forming a team to play at the Festival.
The teams are placed in their pools based on geographical diversity and past performances at the Festival.
One of the Festival’s most competitive divisions, the Open Division features US Olympians such as Tracey Fuchs (’88 and ’96), Diane Madl (’96) Pam Bustin (’96) and Liz Tchou (’96) of Holland Tunnel and Beth Anders (’80, ‘84) and Laurel Martin (’96) of Red Rose.
In addition, Open Division rosters feature current and former national team players as well as current collegiate coaches and all-America selections competing for top honors.
The event marks the seventh time Palm Beach County has hosted the Festival. The Polo Club and Palm Beach County Sports Commission entertained the tournament in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2004.
This year will also mark the 12th time the event has been held in Florida after Cocoa hosted the event in 1991 and 1992 and Orlando in 1981, 1982 and 1994.
Originating as the National Sectional Championships and national team selection tournament in 1922, the Festival adopted its current multi-divisional format in 1981 by introducing tournaments for high school-aged players, club and open teams.
Additional information on the Festival, as well as teams, results and rosters is available on the USA Field Hockey Festival website at www.usfieldhockey.com/festival
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