first opened its doors in 1910. Within two years the school had rallied enough girls to form an organized field hockey squad that would compete against other local schools, and in 2012, the program is still going strong.
Panther field hockey is celebrating its centenary this season, a feat that is a credit to countless players, parents, coaches and administrators who saw the value in the sport and nurtured its growth across generations.
“I think a lot of it is really just tradition and family,” said Collingswood coach Valerie Dayton. “We always ask the girls how many had moms, grandmoms, aunts, cousins, or sisters who played, and I would say between a third and half of the girls have had family that has played.
"It really is a family program and a lot of the same families have come through and have been strong,” she said.
Although this year's team may wear different uniforms and play by slightly different rules than those early teams, the values that were expressed when the program was brought into existence still carry on.
“We really look at tradition strongly,” said senior Melissa Cunningham. “With us being successful, everybody comes back year after year.”
Dayton does her best to make sure that every player who puts on a Panthers uniform understands that they are playing for the team and the community, not just for themselves.
“We talk a lot about tradition and try to keep it going,” Dayton said. “We have a lot of traditions within the program, like things we have done on the bus for 50 or 60 years and just things that have been going on for a long time. Some of the kids have heard about it from their moms, so it has been great to have that.”
The fans have also played a big part in the programs success, providing support that often isn’t seen in field hockey.
“It’s just popular here,” said senior Ellie O’Neill. “People think field hockey in high school is not real fun to watch, but a lot of people from our school come out and watch. It its fun.”
On the weekend of Oct. 19, Collingswood will celebrate the team's 100th anniversary with an alumni game Friday, followed by a social at the Oaklyn Manor.
That Saturday, Collingswood has a 2 p.m. home game against Audubon, after which JV and freshmen players will scrimmage in throwback uniforms from the 1950s and '60s: one-piece navy blues with satchels. They will also be using the old sticks, which were several inches longer than current ones.
The intrasquad game will be followed by a dinner reception in the high school cafeteria. There will also be memorabilia displayed in the gym.
As great as remembering the past is, the Panthers also have plenty to be excited about this season. Coming off a year in which the school reached the Central Jersey Group 2 semifinals, Collingswood looks to be in for even bigger things this season.
The 2012 Panthers squad features 10 returning players—including eight starters—and should make a serious run at the Colonial Conference Liberty Division title. Collingswood should also show well in the Group 2 Tournament, where it has been moved back into the South Section, as opposed to the Central grouping, which never felt quite right.
Collingswood has a big test Friday against a West Deptford team fresh off a . Both squads finished behind the Bulldawgs in 2011, so Tuesday’s result sent a message that things could shape up differently this year. If Collingswood is able to win Friday’s showdown, it could set the stage for the Panthers’ 100th season to be one of its most special.
“We have a lot of experience, and we are just waiting to see how it translates,” said Dayton. “I think we are [ready to compete for the conference title], but you never know. You have to stay healthy and a little luck helps.”