The Mason Spirit

Playing the Field

By Tammi Wark Marcoullier, B.A. '92

It is so weird to think that I was in college more than a decade ago. I feel as if I just got out. Maybe it's because some of the memories are so close, so much of what my life is still about. The people, the places, the things we did then have shaped me into the person I am today. Fourteen years ago, a group of us started the women's lacrosse program at George Mason University. Lacrosse. I had never even seen the game, let alone played, before Kerry Offutt posted a sign calling for all interested players to meet in the P.E. Building in fall 1988. A group of us that lived in the PVs (Patriot Village - remember those "temporary" mobile homes?) and our friends from across campus who lived in the Commons thought it sounded intriguing and went to hear more. Our names went up on a list, and we waited for the call to announce our first practice.

Everyone went out and bought sticks, balls, and cleats. We would throw around with some of the men's team members in hopes that they would show us how to really play. With no coach, no money, and barely any backing from the university, we had a daunting task. Intramural director Jim Murphy laughed in our faces when we asked for field time. Eventually realizing our seriousness and determination, Tony, the men's rugby coach, supported us by offering to share the field.

No prospective player was turned away. And thankfully there were some high school veterans who joined the team - Debbie Diaz and Michelle Ridgeway could run circles around the novice players and demonstrate the basics. Katie Stern started out in goal because she didn't like to run and turned out to have deft natural reflexes in the cage. Southern blonde Tina Klinefelter would show up for practice wearing matching pink shoelaces, socks, and hair ribbon - a look that belied her fierce competitiveness. And a couple of graduate students, Mo V. and Marianne Schmit, were player coaches for the first few seasons. Katrina VanEsselstyn brought our first fan to practice when her then-boyfriend, now husband, Chris Koomey would stop by the sidelines to check out the action.

Over those first few seasons, we played any team that would compete with us - high school teams just starting out at Robinson and Oakton, and college club teams at American, Georgetown, and Navy. We raised money by selling carnations and delivering them to the dorms and classrooms on Valentine's Day. My dad sacrificed his Toyota minivan and a few weekends to drive us to games, including one at Virginia Tech, which was next to a cow pasture. When the wind blew the wrong way, it brought a whole new meaning to being "winded." Farrah Atangan designed a team t-shirt with her drawing of muscled, sleek pony-tailed girls; we all thought the words "Chicks with Sticks" and "Twelve Fast Women Playing the Field" were so accurate and witty. Though our confidence was shaken when fellow teammate Evelyn was murdered outside a D.C. nightclub, we trudged on, playing through snow and muddy fields, and breaking our bank accounts just to play a sport we enjoyed.

Among the names I remember, Marnie Alexander, Tanya Velez, Kathy Crowe, Carolina Linares, Susan Raftery, and Lisa Heigel, and the names I regretfully don't, are fantastic memories of George Mason. Our team wasn't just about winning; it was being out there, running around, learning some skills, and marking our improvement every week, then every season. It was about knowing we could count on a great group of women to be there every day and work toward our common goal. We were diverse in our interests and lives beyond lacrosse, we came from nearly every different kind of community and lifestyle imaginable, we found friendships and camaraderie through our triumphs and our pain. And we laughed a lot. It wasn't a rule, but it was understood that if we didn't have fun, there was no point in being there.

Tammi Wark Marcoullier, B.A. English '92, works at AOL Time Warner and is a freelance writer. Her first book, Driving Forces: Inside the First U.S. Women's Olympic Bobsled Team, is due out in October. The Women's Lacrosse team earned NCAA Division I status in spring 1993.