HILLSBOROUGH: Fledgling field hockey program sees growth, promotes sport to younger audience

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By Andrew Martins, Managing Editor
A relatively new youth sports organization is looking to bring Hillsborough’s girls into the world of field hockey as early as five of six years old for the second consecutive year., Registration is ongoing for the Hillsborough Jr. Raiders Field Hockey Feeder Program, which aims to introduce the game to a new generation of players and potentially nurture a growing interest in the sport., Tara Romano, the program’s director, said the prospect of bringing girls field hockey to Hillsborough’s youngest athletes was an opportunity to introduce them to something that boys regularly get to experience., “Field hockey is one of the only female-driven sports that I am aware of in our township,” Tara Romano, the program’s director, said. “Yes, we have soccer teams, yes we have cheerleading, but we don’t have many offerings for the girls in the township – especially in the fall. It’s usually very football-focused or boys soccer.”, For the uninitiated, field hockey can simplistically be described as a combination of soccer and hockey that has players using a stick to move and eventually shoot a ball into the opposing team’s goal., According to Romano, the Hillsborough Jr. Raiders Field Hockey program began in 2015 when then Girl Scout Emily Van Pelt started offering field hockey clinics as part of her Gold Award requirement. As those clinics gained traction and the community saw an interest in its youth, discussions surrounding a potential township league began to take shape., Though there seemed to be interest, there were no nearby leagues that offered a chance for the township’s youngest athletes to participate. That lack of options is what led the Hillsborough teams into a collaborative effort with the NJ/PA Field Hockey League, which is situated in Warren County., Thoush many of the league’s teams are located in municipalities like Fords, Lebanon and Readington, Romano said the league was more than willing to collaborate with the Hillsborough teams and keep them playing close to the township., “With the collaboration, everybody has been learning from each other. It’s just tremendous,” Romano said. “Between families, players, coaches and the high school team, the cooperation has been tremendous.”, Within the league, regular clinics are offered to girls in kindergarten and first grade while league competition exists for grades 2-6. As a result, Hillsborough joined the league with three teams: a k-2 team, a grades 3-4 team and a grades 5-6 team – though the latter two teams were split into two additional squads thanks to high turnout., This year, Romano said the program has grown even more, with considerations being made for another team for grades 5-6 and the potential for a grade 7-8 team to help complement the Hillsborough Middle School team, which can only take so many players., “What I’ve been told is that girls who can’t find a spot to play usually drop the sport and then never reenter it,” she said. “With this program, the longevity of our players staying in the sport almost triples.”, As a feeder program, girls who come out of that environment are usually encouraged to join the middle school and high school teams. As such, Romano said the Hillsborough High School field hockey program has jumped on-board and begun providing special camps and clinics for the younger girls. Some of the schools’ players have also come on to help parent-coaches as assistants., With plans for the league to kick off in the fall, the Jr. Raiders Field Hockey program is spending this summer gearing up for those games. Romano said each team will have two practices a week with one game on Sundays., Going into its second year, Romano said the program has already garnered the support of its returning players., “We’re really happy with this program. We’re a bit of the low man on the totem pole in the town, but we’re trying to make our mark,” she said. “Our numbers and the kids coming back are proof that the program was a huge success last year.”, Ultimately, Romano said the program is more than just a chance for girls to take their love of a sport onto the field. It’s a social and mental boost as well., “We’ve had girls come out last year and they were new to the sport and new to being on a field. We had girls who never really found their niche in life and it turned out to be a real confidence booster,” she said. “Relationships were formed, friendships were formed and that probably wouldn’t have happened without this program.”, Registration for the program is going on now and is open to anyone in Hillsborough and surrounding municipalities. Early Bird registration will continue until May 10, with signups ending on June 7., For more information, visit www.jrraiders.org or email Romano and her co-director Danielle Citarella at [email protected].