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Secret to Success - Feeder Programs!

By Erica Reilly, 04/19/21, 9:30AM EDT


It is a well known fact that a good youth feeder program can help a high school team, and that a nonexistent one, can hurt it. As high school field hockey develops in the state of Michigan, this premise has become abundantly clear to new coaches. Teams with the strongest feeder programs in the state have consistently seen the most success in the postseason. 

Ann Arbor’s Rec & Ed department boasts the oldest youth field hockey program in the state. 


“We have been running field hockey programming since the mid 80’s,” said Seth Dodson, manager of the city’s youth programming. “In our fall leagues we typically have around 215 to 230 kids and for the spring leagues we have, in a usual season, around 300 students.” 

The city also has 5 middle schools with teams. Slauson, Forsythe, Clague, Tappan and St.Francis. “For AAPS middle school play is only in the fall for 7th and 8th graders,” said Dodson. “Ann Arbor Rec & Ed has a 7th/8th grade league in the spring that this year will get five games and have roughly eight teams. The teams are the typical middle schools…We also have teams from Saline, Dexter, Pinckney and a team from Plymouth Canton in the league the past few seasons.”

With uber successful youth programming in the city, it’s no wonder Ann Arbor high schools have seen more than their share of state field hockey titles. All three of Ann Arbor high school’s- Huron, Pioneer and Skyline- have won state championships. Since 2015 alone, they have won a combined 5 state championships, 4 of those were in Division I and 1 in Division II.

Pioneer High School owns the most field hockey state titles in the state with 26, dating back to 1984. Head Coach Jane Nixon, who has been part of the program since 1988, attributes much of her program's success to the city’s youth programming. “Over 40 years of Saturday morning games have created a special environment filled with enthusiasm and pride for our sport,” said Nixon. “Without question, the success of our teams in Ann Arbor is directly correlated to our Rec & Ed Dept’s dedication and commitment to our youth and to field hockey.”

Dexter Head Coach Keely Tamer is coming off back to back DI state championships. When asked what she attributed to her team’s success, Tamer said, “The strength of our youth the high school level Ann Arbor schools were perennial champions.  We knew we needed to duplicate their youth programs in order to compete with them at the high school level."

Many new coaches in the Michigan High School Field Hockey Association (MHSFHA) have taken notice of Ann Arbor’s success. In 2019, Rockford High School Field Hockey Coaches not only helped create a high school program, but also started a feeder program right away. “Rockford schools are very excited to add field hockey to our sport programs for our young student athletes,” said Mark Neumen, Varsity Field Hockey Head Coach. “We have the full support of our Athletic Director as well as our Community Services Department for our middle school team. We had 14 girls in our middle school program this past fall without much publicity.  I’ve had so many parents come up to me and tell me how excited their daughter is to be playing field hockey. As we continue to get the word out, I’m excited about the future of field hockey and it’s growth on the west side of Michigan.”

These young leopards, Maya Gompper and Sofi Keen went on the be three time State Champions at Pioneer High School and key contributors to the Michigan and Indiana field hockey teams.

The Rockford School District, located just north of Grand Rapids, is well known for its strong athletic programs and is considered a powerhouse in girl’s lacrosse. Neumen added, "The girl’s lacrosse program has won 7 straight state championships and 8 in the past 11 years. Like lacrosse, we want to build a strong youth feeder program. We want to get our high school field hockey players actively involved in creating excitement with our younger girls. We want our girls to be good role models for these young girls and show how much fun playing field hockey can be. Some of the things which we have seen success at is getting our older players to visit the elementary schools for reading days, instruct at summer camps and have youth nights at Varsity games.”

Other communities that are gearing up for future youth programming are the school districts of Clarkston and Farmington.  Coach Vicki Yost notes that Farmington United’s High School field hockey program starts from scratch each year with new incoming kids who have never played the game of field hockey.  As a coach, she has enjoyed watching her players’ growth and development over their high school careers. She looks forward to the addition of youth programming in their community, where players would enter high school at a higher skill level.  “A youth feeder program is essential to attaining greater success with our high school team. It is equally important to our talented student athletes who will have more experience and better skills enhancing their ability to play in college,” said Yost. She adds that “it is essential to give kids as many positive and safe places to learn life lessons and a feeder program expands this opportunity for our kids.”

Feeder programs are designed to help athletes learn the game, build a skillset from a young age and make new friends. Nixon pointed out all of those benefits and more. “Almost every Pioneer, Huron and Skyline State Champion along with a few collegiate Big Ten and NCAA National Champions, started their competitive spirit and love of the game playing on a grass field in their Ann Arbor Rec & Ed t-shirt with teammates who last a lifetime.” 

If you want to learn more about how to start a youth and/or middle school feeder program, reach out to the Michigan Chapter of USA Field hockey at