Learn It, Love It, Pass It On: Strokeline Field Hockey Camp

Strokeline Field Hockey Camp is the perfect place for new players to try their hand at a great game, while entering a supportive community of female athletes.

Coach Mary Pat Mercuro (L) and Natalie Rechan (MHS '17) At Strokeline Camp // Photo By Lila Taylor
Coach Mary Pat Mercuro (Left) and Natalie Rechan (MHS ’17) At Strokeline Camp // Photo By Lila Taylor

Coaches Mary Pat Mercuro and Injoo Han King have been mentoring the Montclair community’s rising field hockey stars at Strokeline Camp for the last 15 years. As co-directors of the Strokeline Field Hockey camp, the two seasoned coaches have been imparting wisdom and skills on their players while maintaining the mindset that the camp’s motto presents: Learn it, Love it, Pass it On.  Strokeline Field Hockey camp introduces brand new players to the game, while also allowing for experienced athletes to improve their abilities. But regardless of your field hockey expertise, Mary Pat and Injoo always provide a week of fun.

Strokeline employs a world-class coaching staff. Coach Mercuro has been the head coach of the Montclair High School (MHS) varsity field hockey team for almost 25 years, while Coach Han served as the head coach of the Montclair Kimberly Academy (MKA) varsity team, and now serves as the MKA assistant athletic director. Both coaches stay well-connected with their players, as many, both past and present, will volunteer their time to help out the younger generation of field hockey greats.

While this week of camp has finished up, the entire Strokeline crew will be back the week of July 9th at Watchung Field, across from the Watchung Elementary School on North Fullerton. The first day of camp always starts with some introductory drills (so don’t be nervous if you are new to the sport) and dividing the campers into their teams for the week, lead by high school players and coaches. The day includes skill stations in the morning, a fun “game of the day.” Then there’s snack time, Coach Mercuro’s Craft Corner ™, which is followed by a “coaches game,” featuring coaches, high school players, and older campers. And the day is rounded out with scrimmaging, allowing for campers to show off all of the skills that they have mastered during the day. Each week also includes themed days such as coaches appreciation day, team spirit day, picture day, and most notably, Friday’s carnival day.

Strokeline not only turns campers into amazing field hockey players, but it creates a supportive community of female athletes. There is a reason that players and coaches return year after year, gaining great experience and skills while making special connections and relationships. Every day, alumni will come to help out at camp, or just visit their friends and former coaches. The Montclair Dispatch spoke with Natalie Rechan, (former varsity captain, MHS’17, and Georgetown University ‘21), about what makes Strokeline such a special and tight-knit community.

Not only do you get to play a sport you love, but you get to make friends and spend time with those friends on and off the field. Strokeline has a really strong, fun community around it. The coaches are energetic and incorporate lots of games into the day— for example, we have a station just for learning a new trick, we play Capture the Flag and other non-field hockey-related games with our rival camp at Watchung, and we have Carnival Day on Fridays where the players can win prizes in water balloon tosses, air-dribbling contests, field hockey Kan Jam and more. The atmosphere isn’t super intense or competitive in a negative way. Kids of a wide range of ages and skill levels are welcome. As much as it is about developing field hockey skills, the atmosphere really highlights the field hockey community in Montclair and Glen Ridge, as well as the camaraderie that the players establish, which I think is the main factor that brings so many players back every year.”

I asked Natalie why she chooses to continue to come back to Strokeline year after year, even after her time at MHS.

“I’ve always loved coaching youth sports in Montclair, but I especially love coming back to Strokeline because, although the camp only took up two weeks of my summers since the fifth grade, it had a huge impact on me, and I want the players now to have the positive, fun experience I had. I hope to make an impression on the campers, but I’ve also found that the campers have made an impression on me, and they continue to teach me something new every day. I love how Strokeline provides a place for me to pursue my passion for coaching and playing field hockey, and spend time with people I love to be around. I started playing field hockey at Strokeline, and the friends I made through field hockey are still my best friends now. My coaches at Strokeline are the ones I coach with now. I can’t stress enough the community that Strokeline builds, one that reels me back in every summer.”

A similar sentiment was echoed by Eva Kaplan (MHS ‘17), who, after serving as varsity captain, continued playing field hockey at the Division 1 level at Lafayette College (’21). “I’ve been going to Strokeline for over ten years and it’s where I met some of my best friends and started my hockey career. You’re surrounded by people who love the game and are eager to learn in a fun environment. When I was a camper, I looked up to the high school counselors, wanting to be just like them. So when I was older, and the roles switched, I knew that I could have a strong impact on young female athletes. My favorite thing is coming back each year and seeing the growth of each player and I hope that I can inspire them to continue. As a college athlete, it’s very refreshing to come back and see why I started playing. For me, Strokeline represents cultivating a love for the game and making friendships that have already lasted a decade, and I hope will last a lifetime.”

The Montclair Dispatch also spoke with Strokeline’s co-director, Coach Han, about the impact that Strokeline has on campers and coaches alike.

“Strokeline is made up entirely of the local field hockey community: the players are all up and coming girls interested in learning the sport, and who can expect to play together for years in schools and on club teams. The high school coaches are all players from the local high schools, they are all role models in the community, and they all teach the players not just how to play the game, but how to interact with each other respectfully and how to compete and train by giving 100%.  Our hope has always been that Strokeline expands field hockey to a greater number of local girls, and in making that hope a reality, we have been grateful to experience that Strokeline has not only fit into the community, but created one as well. Our girls learn first to have fun playing the game, second to be respectful of teammates and opponents, and third the fundamentals of the game that will be the baseline for them in years to come. ”

Coach Han encourages new players to come to Strokeline, as it is the perfect place to learn the fundamentals of the game.

“Strokeline is a great introduction for new, younger players because so many of our coaches can remember exactly what it felt like for them to pick up a stick the first time, and are able to impart the lessons that made them fall in love with the game. Strokeline is, after all, a summer camp; while we encourage competition, we are all out there to have fun and play a game, which at the end of the day, is fun!”

Strokeline Field Hockey camp would not be complete without Coach Mercuro. The Montclair Dispatch got the chance to talk with her about how she fosters a field hockey community, one that keeps its campers and coaches waiting for the start of Strokeline every summer.

“The summer camp is great for kids who want an introduction to the sport, and it’s also good for kids who have been playing for a while because they get to play with people who they are going to go to high school with. It’s relaxed, it’s fun, it’s more than just field hockey. Of course, we have Coach Mercuro’s Craft Corner, which is my favorite part of the camp. But what’s really great, is there are high school kids who come back to volunteer, and they remember being campers here themselves. They look forward to it, it’s a really nice thing. And that’s truly the best thing, seeing my former players come back. That makes it so worthwhile.”

Coach Mercuro also spoke to the concept of the camp reaching outside of the Montclair district, “It’s also nice that we have MKA kids and Glen Ridge kids here too. Then, when they play against each other in the season, and there are some friendly faces out there.”

But for Coach Mercuro, the most important part of the Strokeline camp, and coaching, in general, is the concept of learning it, loving it, and passing it on.  “We show the kids how much we love this game, and we pass it on. And that’s evident through the player who come back and volunteer.”

No matter the level of field hockey knowledge that one may have, any camper will enjoy Strokeline Field Hockey camp. Whether you are a field hockey novice or expert, everyone will leave the camp with greater confidence on the field and will leave knowing a supportive group of coaches and players.

Session 2 of camp will run from July 9th to July 13th, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Strokeline is open to girls entering grades kindergarten through 9th. The fee for the session is $200, which includes a $50 registration fee. You may register your camper at Watchung Field on North Fullerton Ave on July 9th, at 9 a.m. You can send any questions to strokelinefieldhockey@gmail.com.


The author of the article is a Montclair native class of 2017, currently a student at McGill University, studying history and communications within the Faculty of Arts.

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