Field Hockey Canada > Jess Walkey: Making of a Champion

Jess Walkey: Making of a Champion

May 25, 2010 | Field Hockey Canada |

Jessalyn Walkey – Part 1: The making of a champion…

May 25, 2010

By Cecilia Carter-Smith

Connecting with the kids – young and older – who suit up for our National sides has been nothing short of exhilarating for this scribe. I often wonder how and who ignites a fire under kids to direct them to a specific sport during their formative high school years.

I contacted Guy Zink, teacher/mentor/coach at St. John’s Kilmarnock (SJK) private school (Breslau Ontario) who has rich memories of senior national team member Jessalyn Wakely.

“The pioneer of SJK field hockey” shared those precious memories with me.

“I first saw Jess in the spring of 2004 at an introductory meeting of grade 8 students entering SJK in the fall,” said Zink. “I was in guidance so I made the presentation to the grade 8’s and their parents. As I spoke, Jess, who was sitting well back in the audience caught my eye. I remember I was taken by the way she held herself and in particular, her athletic frame stood out, especially her broad shoulders.”

Continued Zink, “SJK is a small school with about 50 girls in the Upper School (grades 9-12), so I needed to recruit every bit of athletic talent that entered the place. I made a point of introducing myself to Jess and her parents after the meeting. Of course, I told her that I expected she would play field hockey in the fall.

“Jess seemed shocked and completely uninterested. She was in fact, a great ice hockey player (at 13) and I think she had little regard for field hockey. She told me – politely – that she would play basketball instead, and continue with ice hockey in the winter months.”

Zink was persistent, however. He decided to write Jess a letter during the summer. “I think it went over about as well as our first meeting because when school started in September I saw Jess’ name on the junior basketball sign-up list,” said Zink. “I explained to her that was fine, but she should not do it without first giving field hockey a chance for one week. If, after that time, she still did not want to play, I would stop hounding her.”

Well, the grade niner did indeed give field hockey a try. And as they say, “the rest is history.”

 “After a week, I went to the junior (tier 2) practice field,” said Zink, and coach Cheryl Diefenbacher and I asked Jess what she thought. “To my delight she said she loved the game. Cheryl asked if that was with a small “l” or Capital “L”.  Jess responded with a big smile. “Capital L, Coach.”

“Midway through that (grade 9) season, Leanne (Dietrich), co-coach (of Tier 1) and I, invited Jess to a practice. At the time, the team was very highly ranked and most of the girls had been playing the game since they were in grade 4. We were both in awe of what Jess did that day. It seemed every time she touched the ball she made something good happen. She had such poise and maturity, understanding where to be and what to do instinctively.

“The truth is she could have played with us the rest of the year and no doubt would have been a difference maker. We briefly thought about it. But, we felt it was right for Jess to continue where she was without disrupting the spirit of either team.”

Added Zink, “For the next three years Jess played for the Tier 1 team and lead us to the schools’ first OFSAA championship in over 25 years of trying.

“No question her ability to play was a huge factor, but the team’s success was also due to her very strong influence on her teammates. Not only did she talk to all of the players about their role, and support them in getting better, but she really walked the walk when it came to leadership. Numerous times I was going home from practice and saw Jess on the field with a non-starting player working repeatedly on a skill they wanted to develop.

“I knew that Jess was bound to be a great player pretty much from the first time I saw her with a stick and a ball.”

Concluded Zink, “But, none of us lit a fire under Jess.” She came to us with a passion for sport and we were lucky enough to have her realize the full measure of that passion through field hockey.”


to be continued…..

PART 2 – The voice of Jess Walkey