Outside of Chelsea (where the Phoenix remain Quebec’s most active hockey club) and the University of McGill, the province is sparsely populated with pockets of field hockey here and there. Community champions, coaches and leaders in those pockets are doing their best to grow the game from within.
Montreal’s South Shore is one of these hockey pockets, with a small, but thriving high school league servicing the English language secondary schools in the area. The South Shore Interscholastic Athletic Association (SSIAA) field hockey league has been around for over 50 years and is home to four schools, with teams supporting multiple age groups per school. In total, there are over 10 teams playing between the senior and bantam divisions.
Jana Jensen is a volunteer field hockey coach and science teacher at Saint Lambert International High School in Saint Lambert. She grew up in the area, went to SLI and learned field hockey in the same league that she now coaches in. She is a second-generation field hockey player as her mother, Rae, played in the Saint Lambert league and coached in the SSIAA in the early 70s. She understands first-hand how valuable the team sport experience at the high school level can be for teens.
“There are so many positives that come with playing,” Jensen said. “We get girls who might not try other sports. The girls just have so much fun playing the game, and as a coach [and teacher], I get to see them excel at something outside the classroom.”
Kristen Banham and Jana Jensen coach the the SLI Senior and Bantam teams in Saint Lambert. Photos/Provided.
Jensen studied at McGill and became a teacher, and around 2000, got involved in the SSIAA field hockey league as a coach. She works with Kristen Banham at SLI splitting up the junior and senior aged teams. Banham also got her start at SLI learning the sport and went on to play at McGill university and played in England in Devon.
Both Banham and Jensen are SLI alumni that are integrated into the community with kids of their own. That community connection is something that defines Jensen’s connection to the sport.
“My daughter [Rebecca] is in grade eight and on the bantam team,” Jensen said. “The whole sport becomes a generational thing. It’s such a tight community. I’m still in touch with people I played with and against. We all look out for each other, and we look out for the success of hockey moving forward. We’re keeping it alive.”
Banham got involved as a coach at SLI in 2018 and has been loving the experience ever since. She notes that there are challenges that face the league and the sport in the area. Most of all the accessibility, resources, and general popularity of field hockey in Quebec.
“We have a very small school so getting all the equipment and gear can be tough and expensive,” Banham said. “We don’t have a huge budget for sports and especially field hockey. We get creative. We use a wooden bench as goal net at practice. We sometimes have to use duct tape to strap our goalie into her pads.”
SLI is a small school without a massive field hockey budget. Getting quality equipment can be a major challenge for the school. Photos/Provided
Despite the challenges, Banham notes that pretty much every player that comes through the program loves the game and can’t wait for their season come the fall.
“I just love the sport and I love being out on the field,” Banham said. “The girls are amazing. I get to work with the same girls for a few years in a row. You really get to know them and see them develop as young women. That was an unanticipated benefit of coaching. It’s been really amazing to see them make their way.”
The SSIAA girls field hockey league runs for about two months at the start of the school year and finishing in late October before winter sets in. The league has four schools in the area, and they play several tournaments culminating in a championship event. Chateauguay Valley Regional High School (CVR) is the biggest field hockey playing school in the region with over 50 players involved in the program.
Chateauguay Valley Regional coach Terri Marino is a physical education teacher who has been coaching the field hockey team(s) since the early 1990s. Her pathway to coaching was different to Banham and Jensen.
“I didn’t have any real connection to the sport to start. I had played soccer, basketball, touch football. I was a multi-sport athlete and I was then just starting as a PE teacher,” Marino said. “At the beginning I just went out to help Faye Craig. I stood back and supported when I could. Then I started with the junior team from there.”
Now, Terri is one of five coaches at CVR including Lisa Evans, a former student who has returned as a teacher and is also supporting the field hockey program. For Marino, having that community continuity is a big part of why she continues to coach every year.
“There is so much community support. When we run the tournaments, we have former students come out to help referee, other schools have alumni coaching. I love that community feeling,” she said. “I can just see the excitement on the kids’ faces as the fall starts. They go running out with their cleats and sticks. It’s that special feeling that I get. It’s amazing.”
Chateauguay Valley Regional High School is the biggest field hockey playing school in the region. Photos/Provided.
Marino, Banham, and Jensen all have a common goal, despite their teams competing against each other on the field. They want to see field hockey continue to grow in the area and have more opportunities for people to play. Having a high school league is a great way to introduce people to the sport but they want to see more for all ages.
“It’s hard because the kids go off to CEGEP and university and they may not really have the chance to keep playing. They’ll switch to another sport and might be out of it forever,” Banham said.
Quebec has a provincial program that has sent several teams to Field Hockey Canada Nationals over the past few years but, these teams are primarily constructed of players from the Chelsea program.
“We’ve talked about trying to connect with Chelsea and run some clinics and sessions together. It is a fair distance, over two hours,” Banham said. “So, it’s difficult in that regard.” All coaches noted that they have been talking about offering spring programming should there be the interest and capacity.
Community champions, volunteer coaches, returning alumni, and generations of field hockey players are keeping the SSIAA alive and well. More than anything they return because they love the sport and want to continue to see it grow in the area. According to Jana Jensen, they simply do it because they love it.
“Field hockey is just so fun. We always want to keep the league going every year because we love it and the players love it,” Jensen said.