Field hockey first sport in Loudoun to reap benefit of changed athletics policy
Varsity field hockey was recognized by the School Board Tuesday, which allowed the sport's registration to play competitively in Loudoun County Public Schools in fall 2016, a move only possible after changes to the athletics and extracurricular policy was made on the same night.
As it stood before, sports could only compete under their school's name if the sport was fully funded by Loudoun's public schools.
The School Board changed the athletics policy to create a three-tiered system that allows for greater flexibility within the county's sports programs and opens the door for more sports in Loudoun schools.
Tier one fully funds and sponsors sports recognized by Virginia High School League (VHSL). Athletics at tier two are only partially funded for students with financial need, with the remainder of the sport recognized by VHSL funded through other means. Tier three sports are former VHSL sports that are recognized by the school district but are given no financial support and relies exclusively on self-funding.
The move gives sports with enough community and statewide interest a chance to move up through the tiers, granted the field space exists at the high schools in the county.
Varsity field hockey was recognized as a tier one or two sport, to be decided during fiscal 2017 funding discussions in the spring.
LOCO for Field Hockey, a local group made up of parents and female field hockey players, began lobbying for the addition of field hockey as a varsity and junior varsity sport in Loudoun's public high schools in 2014. They hoped the change would take place in time for the 2015 school year.
As a precaution, the group of parents managed to get every public high school in the county except Riverside and Park View to send in applications for the extra-curricular activity's addition.
Principals initially didn't support the applications because of the cost, according to county documents, but they changed their tune when alternative funding options arose.
According to research done by Loudoun County Public School staff, the last time a new Virginia High School League sport was added to Loudoun schools was in 2001, when boys and girls lacrosse was added to an official extra-curricular.
Board members and staff said they don't have the funds budgeted to support field hockey.
Start-up costs for varsity and junior varsity teams together would cost $25,942 per school. Recurring costs for coach stipends, officials and transportation would cost around $18,000 per school.
A $150 student activity fee for a 20-member team would generate about $3,000 per varsity or junior varsity team.
Because of the unknown status of the fund availability for the sport, board members stressed nothing is set in stone. It may not be funded as a tier-one sport.
Members from the field hockey community in Loudoun filled the meeting room to voice their support as the decision was made by board members. But they aren't the only ones the decision to change the policy effects.
A group that has been fighting for recognition in the county's public schools longer than field hockey is the crew community, otherwise known as rowing. It's not currently a sport recognized by the Virginia High School League, but with the new tier system, the door is open for crew, and other sports like it, to play under their school's banner.
This article has been updated to better reflect the function of the athletics tier system.