"Same dirt, different skirt" barks the slogan on the back of Coach Valerie Dayton's long-sleeved shirt.
Printed up for the centenary weekend of the Collingswood High School (CHS) field hockey team, the shirt itself may someday take its place in an exhibit of the next 100 years of Panther memorabilia.
If Dayton's 16-1 squad makes some noise in the South Jersey Group II playoffs this season, it will assuredly be there. For this weekend, however, she's content to reminisce with her former squadmates and coaches over a busy alumnae weekend.
The reunion is anchored by an exhibit celebrating 100 years of Panther field hockey arranged in the Collingswood Middle School gymnasium this weekend. It was curated by Sandy Ritter, who tallied more than 300 wins in her 22 years at the head of the program, and it is a fascinating display of the familial traditions at its roots.
For starters, there's the Rudderow-LaBar-Feeley-McKane family, which, for 36 of the program's 100 years added 14 players to its rolls, including Cindy Hill (nee Rudderow), wife of CHS principal Ed Hill.
That's par for the course, Dayton said. There are seven sets of sisters on the current squad; the team actually gained three pairs after losing two from the 2011 team. Dayton herself recalls playing with one of her two sisters, a cousin and her future sister-in-law in 1988.
"It's the tradition of seeing the girls play" that brings the next generation of women into the program, Dayton said.
The exhibit features team pictures from each of the 100 years the program has operated; old sticks, uniforms and goal tending equipment; handmade signs and collages, plaques and commendations; even video-to-DVD conversions of championship games, playing on four television monitors arrayed throughout the room.
"So many of the girls' P.E. classes really went around the halls and looked at these pictures and tried to find people they knew," Dayton said. "I thought some of the hockey kids would enjoy it, but it was really much bigger than that."
The throwback vibe caught on among the current squad, Dayton said, who saw some of the old photographs from a 1936 scrapbook and insisted that they stage their team photo in homage this year. The J.V. girls will even get to scrimmage in some of the vintage uniforms at Saturday's 2 p.m. game against Audubon, about which they've been excited, she said.
"They bought into the tradition," Dayton said. "They got a kick out of it."
And there is much to excite fans of field hockey in watching the current team play. With a loss against Eastern High School—the top-ranked program in the country—the only blemish on their record, the 2012 Panthers are a skilled, fluid group with plenty of chemistry. Seven of the 11 starters have played together for three years, Dayton said, and several of them play during the off-season, building their skill and endurance in club and travel play.
"This is just such a dedicated group," Dayton said. "It's a lot of extra play that they do that's put it all together. They're beautiful to watch."
As for Ritter, the chief architect of the exhibit—with help from Nancy Snow, Maryann Morgan, Julie Williamson Sullivan and girls basketball coach Nancy O'Neill—she's "just proud to be a part of it.
"I'm not an alumna," Ritter said. "I'm hoping the younger ones realize what they're a part of and maybe they'll have another bright 100 years ahead."