I don’t know where I would be today if not for a field hockey stick & Title IX

by Jana Benscoter |

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Had you asked me when I was 14 if I knew that a field hockey stick was going to shape my life, I most likely would have said no.


The main reason for that answer: youthfulness and not having charted out my life’s path.


I grew up watching my aunt, the late Dr. Judy Benscoter, love the sport of field hockey. She gave me my first field hockey stick.


As a U.S. Women’s National Team athlete in the 1970s, my aunt continued her relationship with USA Field Hockey once she retired from playing at the Olympic level. But, just because she was done playing at the highest level didn’t mean she was done with the sport.


She was an orthopedic surgeon, and Team USA’s doctor.


One of my fondest memories was watching how she helped injured international players at Villanova University at the 1993 Women’s Intercontinental Cup. USA Field Hockey fought hard to come out on top, earning a berth to the World Cup that took place in Ireland in 1994.


I’ll forever be grateful that I was there to witness that moment.


I remember seeing USA Field Hockey players run at top speed on the turf embracing an American flag. The sheer joy they exuded was so inspiring to me that I couldn’t wait to play. I was about to start my junior year of high school at South Western in York County and had just begun to think about playing in college.


It wasn’t until my 30s, when I became a high school coach, that I realized how much my aunt and her twin, who also played field hockey at the collegiate level, gave to me. I wanted to give what they shared with me to someone else, too.


Sadly, my aunt had a heart attack and passed away when I was 16. Her death stunned the field hockey world.


At her funeral, I spoke to a packed church in West Chester. The pews were filled with family, friends, members of USA Field Hockey, Olympians, members of the medical community, and to my knowledge, national players from around the world including Germany, Canada, China, and more, who wanted to pay their respects.


Looking back, I didn’t realize just how much she, and all of those people, helped create a culture change in women’s sports by just showing up to the field. They were the change agents, the ones in the 1970s who said women deserved scholarships, recruiting trips, and well-maintained facilities.


Because of them and because of my aunt and her twin, I was afforded the opportunity to also have a field hockey journey of my own.


I had heard about Title IX but I don’t think that, at 16, I was really aware of all the changes that the previous decades had wrought in the world of women’s sports. Title IX was passed in 1972. I was born five years later. By the time I was in high school, the push for equality had taken a leap forward.


My journey includes a recruiting trip to watch the University of Massachusetts play against the University of North Carolina. UMass won in overtime. I went to UMass, where I played Division I field hockey for three years.


From UMass, I went to the Boston Globe, where I began my journalism career. After four years at the Globe, I moved around to a few different locations to report. One stop was in Greensboro, N.C.


After winning second place in the state for investigative journalism at 28, I decided I wanted to play field hockey again. I started an adult league, where others were just as passionate about sharing their love of the sport as I was.


The adult league grew into a youth league, which became the catalyst to start programs at the public high school level.


Youth league players asked me to coach Guilford County’s first public high school program. I said yes.


The high school team wouldn’t have happened without the help from coaches at UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke, Wake Forest, and USA Field Hockey.


Awarded the largest grant ever administered by USA Field Hockey at that time, and provided another grant from Amherst-based Penn Monto, I was asked to speak at a USA event in California to explain the youth league’s efforts.


The plan was to try to expose as many socio-economic disadvantaged girls, and girls of color, to the game as possible. Each player received a stick, shin guards, and a mouth guard.


We offered scholarships for players who couldn’t afford the entry fee, which paid for their equipment. The grants covered 100 percent of equipment costs — balls, sticks, shin guards, mouth guards, cones, and cages.


Three years into coaching my high school team, we swept our division, going undefeated in 2010. I was commonly asked, “how long are you going to coach?” I said: “When I get the program to the final four, and then I plan to hand it off to my assistant.”


We finished fourth in North Carolina high school field hockey in my third year, and I decided to move home.


When I returned to Pennsylvania, I got into officiating. I had been a player, a coach, and a youth league director. I am currently a USA Field Hockey and NCAA official.


As a Division I player and having been around Olympians, women and men, I can testify that sports are a family. There are always going to be highs and there are always going to be lows.


Sports force individuals to coexist with others from different socioeconomic backgrounds than ours, and different political points of view. These “games” push you beyond the emotional, mental, and physical barriers we create in our own imaginations.


Title IX made a statement that most people already knew in the 70s: Women are just as capable and deserving of recognition for athleticism as anyone else.


Because of Title IX, I have made friends from around the world and get to admire the talents of other women, who made me a better player and, I think, a better person.


And all of that, including being a female sports reporter at PennLive covering field hockey, stems from two women and countless givers, who paved the way for me in the 70s. Whether they knew they were advocating or not by just showing up to the field, they were the reason for the authorization of Title IX.


I don’t know where I would be today had I not been given a field hockey stick.