Tuesday, August 21, 2012

New Field, Old Friend

TigerBlog stood on Bedford Field Sunday afternoon in his first visit to the field since the brand-new turf was put down.

It wasn't that long ago that Bedford Field was the least attractive field on the Princeton campus. Actually, it was barely a field at all, more a mix of rocks and concrete-like dirt, used mostly for, well, nothing.

At one time, it was a practice field for the soccer teams, though mostly it's been a staging area for TV trucks and equipment and vehicles for construction or dining services.

Now? It's nearly perfect, spongy, colorful green fake-grass, and it will serve as the new home for Princeton field hockey.

 TigerBlog was there Sunday with Miss TigerBlog, who is getting more and more into the sport and who was there for the first day with the Princeton Field Hockey Club team.

TB left her there for most of the session and walked around the nearly empty campus. When he came back, he saw the usual scene of other parents who were also waiting, some talking to others, some sitting by themselves.

And then he saw a familiar face.

It took him about a second to remember that it belonged to Sharon Goldbrenner Pfluger, the ridiculously successful coach of field hockey and lacrosse at the College of New Jersey.

Way back when in his newspaper, TigerBlog used to write about Pfluger's teams.

Looking back on it, he was lucky to work at a newspaper and with another sportswriter - Harvey Yavener - that way earlier than most places valued women's athletics and gave considerable attention to them.

As a result, TB often found himself as the only writer who would cover the women's game of the basketball doubleheaders at what was then called Trenton State College, or at Rider or sometimes at Princeton. In fact, he was sent to any number of women sports, and TB almost never saw anyone else at those games.

TigerBlog covered men's sports too, and it was a great time to be at Trenton State. Eric Hamilton was the football coach, and actually still is. So is women's soccer coach Joe Russo.

There were others who coached there who have left, people like Rick Dell (men's soccer and baseball), Donnie Marsh (men's basketball), Mika Ryan (women's basketball), Dave Icenhower (wrestling) and others. The school and its administration - especially then-SID Pete Manetas, who taught TB a ton about the field of athletic communications - could not have been more more friendly, especially for athletics.

TB probably covered about 50 of Pfluger's games between the two sports she coaches. In all of those times, he can't remember one game that she lost.

That's not as ridiculous as it sounds, if you take into account the fact that her career record between the two is 837-104. She has won 18 - eighteen - NCAA Division III championships between the two.

She is one of just two female coaches featured in the NCAA Hall of Champions’ Legends of the Game display located in Indianapolis. The other? Pat Summit.

Pfluger's daughter was there for the same field hockey session that MTB was. As TB spoke to her for a few minutes, he remembered all of the times he'd covered her games and how polite and appreciative she and her players always were.

When TB thinks back to his time in the newspaper business, he remembers the opportunities he had to cover what would be considered "big-time" events, including the famous Duke-Kentucky men's basketball game at the Spectrum in 1992.

Mostly he thinks back to people like Pfluger and the others he met at Trenton State, or Rider, or even his most preliminary days here at Princeton, and how much of an education he got in writing and college athletics and how well it served him as a base for his current career.

Maybe it's because he was exposed early on to women's athletics - and to covering men's teams other than football and basketball - that he has embraced so eagerly the Princeton Athletics way of having 38 teams all treated as equally as possible.

In fact, as he has said often, it's one of the best parts about working here, that the entire shop isn't driven by football and men's basketball.

The newspaper that TB used to work at has long since vanished, at least the part that had seemingly unlimited space to devote to college athletics and in turn chose to give a fair share of it to the women, long before that was the norm.

Here, though, with a webpage and a blog and videos and podcasts, the idea of not giving women equal billing isn't something that would ever cross anyone's mind.

For TigerBlog, this was something that was ingrained in him long ago, long before he had MTB, a woman athlete of his own, to look after.

This is something that he was fortunate enough to learn when he was just starting out in the business, and it's stayed with him forever.

He has to thank Yav of course. And all of the great women athletes and coaches he met in those days.

Sharon Pfluger is up there with any of them.

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