By Tyler Browne
At 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon of October 7, with a heavy rain falling down outside, three women gathered in a Springfield College classroom, surrounded by the members of the school’s field hockey team. These women are three of the most accomplished field hockey players and coaches in the United States, and they came together to teach the team about the history of the game that they all play.
The event was put together by Dr. Craig Poisson, Springfield’s Executive Director of Athletics. Poisson’s mother, Angela “Chickie” Poisson, was one of the speakers, and the event also included Dorothy “Dottie” Zenaty (Springfield’s former coach) and Angela “Tammy” Tamaro, who was the longtime holder of the all-time wins record for high school coaches.
“The reason we’re here today is my mom has a drug, and her drug is field hockey. And she hasn’t had her drug in a while,” Poisson said with a smile.
When Chickie approached her son about speaking to the field hockey team, he immediately had the idea to invite Zenaty. Zenaty coached at Springfield for over 30 years, and was replaced by current coach Melissa Sharpe in 2003. But, it didn’t end there.
“Years from now, one of you might be invited somewhere, and you’re gonna tell your friend that you were invited somewhere, and that friend’s gonna say, ‘you want a ride?’” explained Dr. Poisson.
That friend was Tamaro, known by her players as “Coach Tammy.” And with her background in the sport, it only made sense to invite her to speak as well.
Between them, there was over 240 years of field hockey experience in the room. Chickie not only played and coached, but also officiated games, and eventually became the sport’s National Rules Interpreter at the high school and collegiate levels. Zenaty, who graduated from Springfield in 1965, spent over 30 years as a coach at the collegiate level, while Tamaro spent just as long coaching high school.
As Dr. Poisson began to read off a list of his mother’s many accomplishments within the game, he got choked up and had to stop himself.
“When I say [the game]’s in my heart, I mean it,” remarked Poisson, before finishing the list.
Once Poisson was done informing the team of the incredible feats of the women standing in front of them, it was time for his mother to take over the spotlight.
Over the course of the next half hour, Chickie taught the current team about the history of their game, both in the United States and around the world.
“As sad as it is…that field hockey goes relatively unnoticed in our country, it should be known that the USA does hold its own in international competition,” said Chickie, before discussing how field hockey, or at least the ancestors of it, were played as far back as in Ancient Greece.
Chickie also took the time to talk about her time playing for Constance Applebee. Applebee helped bring the game of field hockey to the United States, and Dr. Poisson believes that his mother is one of the few living people who can say they learned the game from her.
In 1973, Applebee celebrated her 100th birthday, and received hundreds of messages from around the world
“I remember getting my three boys to sit down and sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Ms. Applebee on the tape,” recalled Poisson, before asking her son if he remembered doing so.
Poisson went on to discuss the difficulties that female field hockey players had to go through in order to participate in the Olympics, and talked at length about her experiences playing in such places as South Africa and London, where she played a match in the famous Wembley Stadium.
After Chickie sat down, Zenaty took her place. Rather than talking about the game as a whole, Zenaty focused on the history of field hockey at Springfield College.
She told the team about the early years of women’s sports at the school, and of the primitive equipment used in those days. She went into detail about the struggles that the school’s women’s teams went through to become sanctioned, as the NCAA initially wouldn’t accept female teams.
She also talked at length about her coaching career, and of the days of a tournament known as the Olympic Sports Festival.
“It was as close to the Olympics as most young people are going to get. Every sport that would compete in the summer olympics…selected four teams.”
Zenaty coached a field hockey team in this festival many times during her career, and many of her Springfield players were selected for teams.
One of the most emotional moments of the evening came at the end of Zenaty’s presentation, as she recalled her final season as the Springfield coach.
“My last [European training] trip was in 2004, Melissa [Sharpe] was going to be the coach in the fall…and I had lost my husband in 2002.”
At this point, Zenaty was overcome with emotion at the memory of losing her husband, and told her audience of how she dedicated her final year to bringing awareness to the campus of Alzheimers, the disease which took her husband from her.
“It was an incredible, yearlong procedure…Then I got to take my last team to Holland. And I said to Melissa, ‘I only want to do one thing…when we get there. I only want to coach one practice.’”
Zenaty coached the first practice in Holland. Then she turned the team over to Sharpe, who has been in charge ever since.
The final speaker of the evening was Tamaro, who spoke about the history of the game at the high school level.
“I was bitten by the field hockey bug when I was in ninth grade,” began Tamaro.
Interestingly, Tamaro was coached by Chickie at one point in her youth, and Poisson helped her become the first female graduate assistant at the University of Bridgeport.
From college, she was hired by Greenwich, which she preferred to a job at a public school.
“In those days, the public schools [didn’t offer much] in terms of field hockey…The private schools [in that area of Connecticut] played games against each other, and that’s really what I wanted to do. I wanted to coach.”
During her time at Greenwich, she saw the number of sports at the school rise from three to 17.
After all three women had spoken, Sharpe took the time to thank them, especially her former coach, Zenaty.
“Things were harder [when I was a player], and she’s the reason why it was harder. She made things very challenging for us as players in order to make us get better. That’s what I think we’ve tried to hammer home with you.”
Photo courtesy of Springfield College Athletics