Club of the Week Wednesday: Highlands Field Hockey Club
by USA Field Hockey
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On Wednesdays throughout 2021, USA Field Hockey will highlight an active club from one of the nine regions around the United States to shine a spotlight on what makes Member Clubs unique. From coast-to-coast, clubs big and small will be featured to increase awareness of field hockey across the country, and administrators and coaches will have the chance to talk about initiatives, training and favorite parts of the game. This week from Region 6 is Highlands Field Hockey Club.
Club Name: Highlands Field Hockey Club
History: Highlands Field Hockey Club (HFHC) was founded in 2015 by Chris Batenhorst because he wanted his daughters, Maggie and Sarah, and their friends to have somewhere close to learn the game and play. The thought came on when Chris’ oldest daughter was in the fourth grade and no longer wanted to play soccer. His wife, Liz, was a High School All-American field hockey player and shared the love of the game with their daughters. By sixth grade, their daughters were commuting an hour to the closest club to train. Chris realized there was a need for a club in Bergen County, where youth could train close to home, and at the same time provide a feeder program to Northern Highlands Regional High School.
Chris worked closely with Rich Smith, the local high school head coach at the time, and Ali Bellino, who ran youth field hockey programs in the area, to get the club up and running. The club was first launched by hosting a USA Field Hockey Rise Clinic with special guest and Atlanta 1996 Olympian Liz Tchou. The original goal was to have 45 athletes attend, but that expectation was doubled when more than 90 athletes participated, confirming Chris’ hunch that there was a desire to grow the game in Northern New Jersey.
Since its inception, HFHC has trained more than 650 athletes from kindergarten through eighth grade and provided leagues for 9th through 12th grades.
The club got its name when it began as a feeder program for Northern Highlands Regional High School. Field hockey was one of the only varsity sports that didn’t have an established feeder program to help girls learn the game and play. 41 out of 44 starters on the Northern Highlands varsity field hockey team over the past four years have participated in the HFHC youth and high school programs.
Chris on Club Life:
Chris, who serves as the club administrator, has grown the club to train athletes all over Bergen County, regardless of the town they live in or high school they attend. HFHC runs year-round programs for kindergarten through eighth grades, including clinics, leagues, camps and specialty training, in addition to high school winter and summer leagues. For example, this spring alone, the club currently has two youth teams which compete in a league, a clinic for kindergarten through third graders, a clinic for fourth through eighth graders, two specialty clinics for fifth through eighth graders and high school pick-up games being offered.
The goal of HFHC’s program is to instill a love of the game in kids so they will want to continue playing while enhancing their skills at each level as they grow. This is along with giving athletes the opportunity to get high school level training closer to home. For those that want to play in college, they recommend club teams that have experience with and specialize in recruiting.
HFHC gives back to the local community by supporting the Northern Highlands Regional High School, where they provide a coach’s salary, and donate annually to a capital improvement lights campaign at the high school. The club is very involved by supporting fundraisers at local schools and scholarships for HFHC programs to those who may not otherwise be able to participate.
The current varsity head coach at Northern Highlands Regional High School, Jordan Paton, along with Ali, Gina Bencivenga and Janelle Schneider are key youth coaches for HFHC and have been with the club since its inception. Chris credits the fact that these coaches have been with the program since the beginning as providing continuity of training and enhanced skill development for the athletes.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last March, the club canceled all programs but were fortunate to resume playing outside in July and hosted camps, clinics and leagues last summer. HFHC continued outside through December and when they moved indoors, they kept their clinics small. The HFHC family did an amazing job of following all protocols and they didn’t have to shut down any programs.
Highlands Field Hockey Club is in the process of planning a Discover Field Hockey Clinic as well as a Coach Education offering with USA Field Hockey.
HFHC’s favorite part of being a member of the USA Field Hockey Family is that they support the organization’s mission of growing the game, as that is what the club is all about. He also finds the resources and programming like the USA Field Hockey Summit, GAME ON, GO Cards and the ability to engage with USA Field Hockey on a national level very helpful.
Although he never seeks recognition, Chris’ wife, Liz wants to praise him for his tireless dedication by volunteering approximately 20 hours a week to keep HFHC running and growing. He has provided countless individuals with the opportunity to train and attend programs all for the benefit of the youth in the area.