For years, field hockey players in Loudoun County have been patiently waiting for their sport to achieve the same varsity status enjoyed by lacrosse- or soccer-playing classmates. That wait will end in the fall of 2016.
In passing two related measures at a meeting Tuesday night, the Loudoun County School Board both changed the system by which it recognizes sports and made field hockey a case study under the new framework.
Before Tuesday night, Policy 8-45, which governs “Interscholastic Activities Additions or Deletions” was essentially an all-or-nothing proposition. Sports were either fully funded and recognized in Loudoun — or they weren’t.
“It was really hard to add a team under previous policy,” said School Board Chairman Eric Hornberger, “because [the school division] would take on all costs associated with the sport. Money’s tight, and we wanted to keep as much money in the classroom as possible.”
The school board’s solution is a three-tiered system. Under the new model, Tier-one sports are fully funded, Tier-two sports are only supported financially in that students facing economic hardship won’t have to pay to play, and the Tier-three designation applies narrowly to former Virginia High School League sports such as crew, Hornberger said.
Field hockey will either become a Tier-two or Tier-one sport in 2016, a decision that will be finalized along with the school’s budget next April. The school board’s vote to change the athletics additions policy passed 8-1, and the addition of field hockey was unanimous, Hornberger said.
On the VHSL side of things, each school will only need to pay a $30 activity fee to compete with the governing body’s sanctioning. Currently, 143 schools (slightly less than half of VHSL’s members) have field hockey teams. Those programs are mostly clustered in the Northern Virginia, Stafford and Tidewater regions, said Joyce Sisson, VHSL’s field hockey administrator.
“It’s huge for the growth of the sport,” Sisson said. “It’s the first mass entrance of schools in the 12 or 13 years I’ve been here. Schools that have field hockey tend to keep it. It’s a good sport that involves a lot of girls and a lot of female participants.”
Last fall, players from eight Loudoun County Schools competed in the Loudoun County League at the club level. Stone Bridge sophomore Grace Yacura was one of them. At the time, she felt that the sparse opportunities to see the field limited her growth potential.
“And you see the improvement that [varsity teams] have over the fall season, just because they have practice every single day,” Yacura said in an October interview. “You can’t keep up with them, can’t get to that next level.”
For Yacura and field hockey players across Loudoun, the varsity level is now within reach.