WOODBRIDGE — Kelly Sanders thought she was taking a year off from field hockey. The former Woodbridge head coach wound up with just a summer vacation instead.
A phone call from Vikings activities director Greg Margheim resulted in a change of plans.
“Greg called me the first week that they were back and said he needed my help,” Sanders recalled.
The dilemma had nothing to do with coaching, but it had everything to do with the future of high school field hockey in Prince William County.
The county had plenty of coaches, enough to field teams at four schools. What the area needed was registered officials. Without them, the schools currently fielding teams faced the possibility of playing every match on the road.
“As the sport grows and schools have added teams it’s created quite a crunch,” said Nancy Baughan head of the Fredericksburg Officials Association. “We used to officiate Woodbridge games, but we’ve found it hard to continue to do that.”
Baughan has a hard enough time finding qualified officials to cover the Fredericksburg area, which also includes Spotsylvania and Stafford counties, but she offered to help Prince William start its own association this fall.
That was enough to coax Sanders out of retirement.
“Even though I wasn’t coaching this year I couldn’t let them play all their games away,” said Sanders, who spent seven years at Woodbridge, including three as head coach.
Because field hockey is just beginning to peak in popularity in Woodbridge and Manassas, there was never much demand for officials. The Vikings have always relied on the association based in Fredericksburg.
But with a program starting at Stonewall Jackson this fall and the possibility of one or two others coming along in the next couple of years, Sanders understood the need to get something going in Prince William County.
“I got some people together, former players and friends I’d talked with last spring when it began to surface that this might happen,” she said. “We’re calling ourselves the Prince William Officials Association, but we’re running through Fredericksburg this year.
“Hopefully, we’ll go our own way next year, but I told Nancy if she ever needed anybody we’d help them out.”
Baughan, in turn, has done the same. While Sanders continues her recruiting effort, the Fredericksburg association has continued to assign officials here whenever it can.
Stafford’s Wendy Payne and former Indians stars Crystal Carper have officiated several games at Woodbridge, while Sanders’ group has most often made the calls at Stonewall Jackson, Forest Park and Osbourn Park.
“We’re trying to lure former players if they move back into the area,” said Baughan, who has 27 registered officials to cover an area that includes 15 high school teams. “Teachers make up the bulk of our officials, but people who have any familiarity with the sport are usually snapped up by the schools to coach.”
So far, Sanders has lured at least one former player — Woodbridge and William & Mary graduate Nicole Whitfield. She’s part of a fledgling Prince William crew that also includes Sanders and Osbourn Park lacrosse coaches Kate Thomas and Stephanie Houck.
Mary Cate Slay, a coach at Highland School, has also offered her time to the cause.
The part-time job offers one very important perk — $110 to officiate a junior varsity and varsity match — but not until prospective officials pass a rules test and attend a rules clinic.
“We’re hoping that it does grow. We’re happy to have the people who are involved up there,” Baughan said. “Hopefully, in the future, we can cross associations and help each other out.”
Anyone interested in joining the Prince William Officials Association should contact Sanders at (703) 898-0596.
Dave Utnik covers field hockey for the Potomac News & Manassas Journal Messenger. Reach him at (703) 878-8051 or at [email protected]