It’s called hacking. It is when sticks clash and shins are struck. It is when athletes fight for the ball and risk injury. That is field hockey, the quintessential girls sport.
Every year, these athletes put on kilts, ponytails, and braids and run miles on fields, while holding hockey sticks. Why girls? Why only girls?
The answer lies just outside Philadelphia.
Constance Mary Katherine Applebee, who her friends called “the Apple”, is the reason why the U.S. has identified and labeled field hockey as a women’s sport, as she introduced the sport to the states in the early 1900’s. She brought over the sport to Bryn Mawr College, which is an all female college.
“The Apple” came on a mission.
She graduated from the British College of Physical Education in 1899 and she took an anthropology summer class at Harvard University.
She traveled to the U.S. to initially take that summer course, but when a chance for her to speak about English games arose, she demonstrated the game of field hockey to students.
This is when the game received praise from the students and became a sensation. The game took off and was on its way around 1901. During the big bang of the sport, she co-found the American Field Hockey Association.
Eventually, Applebee did finish her course at Harvard and was asked to remain in the U.S. to teach field hockey. She did and began programs at numerous small private colleges, which is how she stumbled upon Bryn Mawr.
Applebee made a tour of women colleges in 1901 throughout the Northeast to introduce field hockey, while supplying students with instruction and coaches with coaching mechanisms.
The Apple lugged all of the hockey equipment on her tour to promote the sport until field hockey became a sport that would be recognized around the nation.
In 1904 she was named the Athletic Director at Bryn Mawr College, which is a small private female college located in Lower Merion Township, in Pennsylvania.
Due to Applebee exposing females to field hockey, the sport stuck, but so did the gender popularity of the sport. Field Hockey is not exactly known as a physical sport, which males tend to take part in. For males, the U.S. tends to associate Ice Hockey as their hockey sport. In Europe field hockey is as co-ed as basketball is in the U.S.
Field hockey is not like basketball or soccer in the U.S, as field hockey is only a female sponsored sport in most school districts and universities.
Harvard University’s Head Field Hockey Coach Tjerk van Herwaarden said, “I know it is very popular among women in Holland, but overall it is even in numbers in a lot of European countries.”
The sport has not captured the mass male interest, but the popularity and interest is growing.
Beth Riley the Head Field Hockey Coach at Bryn Mawr College said, “It certainly could be different if Applebee had introduced it to both males and females when she brought it to the U.S., but as it developed here, males had already been exposed to other sport such as football and baseball. USA Field Hockey has been advocating for men's field hockey in the U.S. for decades and has seen some growth in numbers, but it becomes difficult to participate in a sport when it may not be allowable for males to play on female teams. We have a tough road to change the perception of field hockey in the U.S. It's not just a gender issue, but also a popularity issue. The rate of growth of new collegiate field hockey teams has slowed in comparison to women's lacrosse in recent years, and yet worldwide, field hockey is the third most popular sport.”
The U.S has both a Women and Men’s USA Field Hockey team, but when the public is asked about the teams, most people only recall a women’s team. This factor may circle back to The Apple only exposing the sport to women.
Since field hockey’s rules are similar to soccer, it may be hard to understand why men have not caught an elite interest in the sport.
It takes 11 players on a field hockey team to compete in a game. There is a goalie, midfielders, defenders and forwards, just like soccer.
At Bryn Mawr College, the lacrosse and soccer field is named after Applebee. She was also a huge pioneer for women’s lacrosse in the U.S as well. The current Athletic Director, Kathleen Tierney, has Applebee’s field hockey stick in her office.
The shape of the field hockey stick has evolved and looks more like the letter J, rather then an L, as Applebee’s stick has the L shape look. The game of field hockey has also evolved into a quicker paced game to allow maximum skill and athleticism to be showcased.
The Apple also found the Department of Health at Bryn Mawr as well as introduced swimming sports, since it was frowned upon for women to swim during that time. Men were the only people allowed to swim, so Applebee taught women how to swim. She introduced water polo and swimming, but also brought in more sports to the program such as track, tennis, fencing, badminton, and archery. Today all of those sports have women teams in the Olympics.
The Apple also had a passion for writing, as she was a faculty advisor for the Bryn Mawr newspaper as well as the founder of The Sportswoman Magazine.
Applebee had so many passions, which led to her being a pioneer and leader in a country, where she was only visiting to take a summer class at Harvard. Who knew that her taking an anthropology course would lead to an increase in women sports and the birth of field hockey in the U.S. The Apple will forever be remembered not only at Bryn Mawr College, but also around the nation as the pioneer of women sports, and possibly the reason why field hockey is considered a female sport.
Either way, hacking will continue on fields across the nation and will continue to be called, and then the players will continue taking shots into the goals, while swinging their ponytails and braids. Field hockey is the quintessential girls sport because of The Apple.