By Brenda Patoine
Rebecca Spencer had never touched a field hockey stick before October, when she was recruited by her neighbor Jennie Lutton to join the indoor league at the Sports & Fitness Edge in Williston. But there she was on a Monday night that threatened rain, racing down the turf at a University of Vermont field with her stick outstretched in one arm, trying to catch the competition before they shot for a goal.
“Two hands!” came a cry from the bleachers, where about four people were rooting on their mothers, sisters or daughters who were facing off in a game organized by GameOnVT.com.
Spencer, a para-educator at Williston Central School, said later that, as the “newbie,” she counts on that kind of guidance from teammates and observers. “I’m learning by watching and listening to my teammates,” she said. “They’ve all been so helpful.”
Why would a part-time single working mom of three pick up a sport like field hockey at 46 years old?
“For the camaraderie,” Spencer says.
She’s not alone. GameOnVT’s summer field hockey league has eight teams this year, comprising about 110 women ranging in age from 18 to 50-something, according to founder Louis Hodgetts. Each team self-organizes, hustles sponsors to cut down on registration fees ($160 per person, to cover insurance fees, field rental, team pinnies and balls) and makes sure there are enough players on the field at game time. Games are held twice a week—with two games each night—at UVM’s outdoor turf field near the Gutterson Field House, for a total of 13 games per team.
Hodgetts, a Huntington resident who grew up in Burlington, was inspired to found GameOnVT after looking for team sports to get involved in after college and coming up empty-handed.
“Finding adult sports programs in Chittenden County is difficult,” he said. Hodgetts said he “spent months tracking down the various leagues” only to find that most teams were full, with few opportunities for someone new to join in. There was a clear demand for more teams, but “no one wanted to run it,” he said. He took on the challenge, condensing all of the information he had dug up and creating a website, www.GameOnVT.com, where people could go to learn about team openings and sign up to play various sports.
The summer field hockey league is an extension of an indoor winter league that’s been hosted for several years at the Edge fitness center (a similar winter league plays at the Shelburne field house). The indoor teams play on a smaller field, with five players instead of eight on a team, and with no goalies.
Williston resident Jennie Lutton got involved six or seven years ago through her daughter Lida, whom she had enrolled in a league for middle-school students at the Edge. Lutton had played field hockey in high school and remembered how much she loved being on the team and “part of a group with a shared goal.” Her daughter was decidedly unexcited at first, she recalled, but “after about two days, she loved it.”
“It’s true, I didn’t want to play field hockey,” Lida Lutton, now 19 and a sophomore at St. Michael’s College, confirmed. “My mom forced me.”
At one of the middle-schoolers’ games, Lida Lutton’s team was short a couple players, so the referees invited “any parents who had sneakers with them” to join in. Jennie Lutton was one of them, and she quickly rediscovered her love of the game. When she learned there was a league for adult women, she signed up and started recruiting friends and neighbors for a new team.
“I found a few more women who had played in their youth and/or wanted to learn and we created ‘The Platters’—named because we got our [bleeps] served up on platters every week!” Jennie Lutton wrote in an email. “The first few years were tough and we lost every game by 10 or 20 points. If we scored once every couple of weeks we were thrilled.”
Meanwhile, Lida Lutton had gone on to play field hockey in high school (and now plays at St. Mike’s), so her mother recruited her to coach the Platters. They rented gym time at a local church every Tuesday night to practice drills and stickwork, and the team gradually improved. Now Lida Lutton plays alongside her mom in the summer league, holding court as the youngest member of the team. One other mother-daughter duo—Karen and Sarah Reed of Williston—has also been a part of the team, though Sarah Reed is now at college in New Hampshire.
“Many of the ladies that started out with us those first few years are still playing,” Jennie Lutton said. “We find the combination of exercise, the challenge of learning something new, and the friendships we’ve made are very important in our lives.”
Lutton said the team’s motto is: “Fun first, competition not even second.” They have a “no apologies rule,” she said—players are not allowed to apologize for their mistakes. “It’s about the fun, the exercise and the camaraderie.”