More than a game

Shelton sticks with the field hockey program she started

(Toni L. Sandys - The Washington Post)
Buy Photo
Monday, November 16, 2009

Views from high school sports from photographer Toni L. Sandys

When Lil Shelton first came to Severna Park High School in 1972, things were a lot different. Severna Park was considered more of a sleepy town than a suburb of two metropolitan areas. The student body was less than half of the 1,800-plus that are enrolled now, and physical education classes were segregated by sexes.

Title IX, the landmark legislation banning sex discrimination in schools -- whether in academics or athletics -- was just starting to make its way down to the schools. "There were no sports for girls when I came to Anne Arundel County," said Shelton, who was a physical education teacher at the school. "Right away we started volleyball, basketball, and softball.

"One day, I found these old sticks in the closet," Shelton said. Eager to teach her classes another sport to play, field hockey was born at Severna Park. Shelton found the girls loved the game and wanted to learn more. "I taught it in class, so I said why can't we get a team?

"They didn't have many sports for girls down south," chuckled Shelton, who grew up in Alabama. "When I came to Severna Park High School, I wanted these girls to have opportunities to play."

So, when her principal gave her the go-ahead for the team in 1975, Shelton immediately made an announcement on the school's public address system. "I said anyone that wants to play field hockey meet me after school and a whole bunch of girls came."

The team practiced on the school's front lawn while the football team used the stadium. The girls frequently had to dodge and duck from trees as they practiced dribbling the ball. Knowing that field hockey needs short grass, Shelton occasionally mowed the lawn herself. "There was nobody else around to do that," she said.

Severna Park was the only public school team in Anne Arundel County. It played as many local private schools as it could -- the Severn School, Spalding and the Wroxeter School. But it also spent a lot of time traveling. "That first year, we got on the bus and went around the Beltway," Shelton said.

In 1979, Shelton led her team to its first state title -- quite an accomplishment for a coach that learned the game along with her players.

Thirty-four years since the program's inception, Shelton and her Falcons have won 19 state championships, including one this year. She has coached the moms and aunts of some of her current players.

"It's fun," said Shelton, who retired from teaching in 2000. The season is short and the hours are minimal. "I enjoy the girls. They just get better every year, and I just don't want to let them go."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company