By Sarah Jane Weill
I love the rush of a game, the desire to always play your best, the constant practice to improve. I even love the sore muscles after a long tournament. The only difference between many other Chappaqua athletes and me is that I play field hockey, not a “traditional” town sport.
Soccer, Football: What Else Is New?
Field hockey (you might know it as the sport with the funny “J”-shaped stick) is only one sport that flies under Chappaqua’s radar. Chappaqua’s most popular sports mirror the nation’s, and because of that popularity and recognition the sports are started at very young ages. This kind of exposure causes a common trend in Chappaqua’s athletics. The most valued athletes in our town usually play soccer, football, lacrosse, baseball (and its variations) and basketball.
With youth development programs, those sports cultivate single-minded interest early on. It’s clear that Chappaqua’s most commonly played sport–starting at age five–is soccer. The early start is great, but the emphasis on only one sport that young narrows the opportunities for other sports in our town to grow and thrive. Since so many children have played soccer for so many years, many Greeley soccer players are quite good. But athletes who play other sports work just as hard.
Chappaqua youth are fortunate to have development opportunities that foster athletic connections between the Recreation Department and school programs, but widening the range of sports offered early on would benefit everyone. As an athletic and involved community, we can obviously influence intense passions surrounding certain sports, but equal opportunity support is crucial.
Our Athletic Diversity
Chappaqua schools are filled with those who play volleyball, tennis, hockey and golf. Our town is also populated by swimmers, runners, wrestlers, skiers and bowlers. This list doesn’t even include athletes who do not participate on high school teams, such as ice skaters, dancers and horseback riders.
Many of these athletes get little attention outside of their own families. Sure, they are respected, but as unique kids who play “interesting sports” and who are admired for going against the grain. However, these athletes work hard every day in sports about which they are truly and deeply passionate. They contribute to our town’s athletic success, but their efforts and successes are not generally recognized town-wide.
As an athlete, I think everyone can agree that it would be nice to have fans come watch games and cheer teams on, no matter what the sport. When people actively care about a sport, it gains visibility, respect, and ultimately more interest and players. Fans are a hugely important aspect in sports. Think about the thousands of loyal Yankee fans and what they mean to the team. The energy at a Yankee game–and possibly the efforts of the players–would be completely different without those screaming fans in the stands.
While a thousand fans at any Chappaqua game is obviously unrealistic, players involved in lower-profile sports would find it amazing to have people other than their families watch their games and show they care. Every athlete in our town deserves have people come watch them play and support them, because that would make them feel valued as athletes–vital to their success.
A Step In The Right Direction
I am thrilled that the New Castle Parks and Recreation Department will now be offering a development program in my sport, field hockey, prior to the seventh grade modified program offered in the middle schools. The more sports that are incorporated into our town in ways like this, the closer our town and community will become. Sports can bring people together, creating common bonds, social opportunities and long-lasting friendships based on shared interests.
Sports are a huge part of town life; we must start appreciating every sport and every athlete. Broad-based support will open up more sports to more children, ultimately making us stronger as a community.
Sarah Jane Weill is now a sophomore at Horace Greeley High School.