BURNT HILLS — Early on a Sunday morning, the fields at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School were packed, a result of the growth seen by the Mohawk Youth Field Hockey League since its inception in 2011.
Sponsored by the Mohawk Field Hockey Club, the Mohawk Youth League was started by Saratoga varsity field hockey head coach Jo-Anne Hostig, BH-BL varsity coach Kelly Vrooman, and then-Shenendehowa varsity coach Jeanne Frevola. Over a decade after its beginnings, the league has grown tremendously, providing more opportunities in the sport for athletes across the area.
“It is awesome,” said Hostig at the Play Day hosted by BH-BL. “It’s getting the sticks into their hands sooner, and it’s getting them to have fun, and getting them to learn about working as a team. It’s been a nice thing.”
The youth league is hosting four ‘Play Days’ throughout the fall, each hosted by a different school district. Saratoga Springs, Shenendehowa, and Johnstown also have hosted or will host a ‘Play Day’ this year.
The days are exactly what the name suggests, providing numerous opportunities for athletes and teams to compete in scrimmages. The Mohawk Youth League’s ‘Play Days’ offers a division for fifth and sixth-graders, and a division for third and fourth grade.
In its initial year, the youth league had 11 teams, said Hostig. This year, there are nearly 40 teams from a variety of area schools. In addition to Saratoga Springs, BH-BL, Shen, and Johnstown, the youth league also includes teams from districts such as Bethlehem, Shaker, Guilderland, Hoosick Falls, South Glens Falls, Scotia-Glenville, Gloversville, and more.
The fifth/sixth division played on the turf at BH-BL’s Centennial Field, while the younger division played on the adjacent grass fields. Each team plays four 20-minute games during a ‘Play Day’, Hostig said.
“Most teams probably have, like, ten (players) on a team,” Hostig said. “So they sub in and out for the 20 minutes.”
Hostig said the upper division had over 20 teams, and the lower division had 18. The Saratoga program brought five teams to the ‘Play Day’ at Burnt Hills, with Hostig noting the league has had a strong impact on area varsity programs, including the Blue Streaks.
“So for the youth coming into it, it used to be that they were kind of beginning. Now, it’s like they’re continuing on,” Hostig said. “Almost all the teams that are here, their impact for their school program is helping them tremendously. It’s already having the sticks in their hands, it’s already knowing what patterns are, what offense and defense is. It’s helping our field hockey program in the area, in general.”
The SSHS field hockey program is strong in numbers, with nearly 50 players in total. The program currently has two modified teams, with Hostig saying that likely over half of the players on each of those teams came through the youth league.
“It definitely is helping us,” said Hostig. “It’s transferring now into it. They’re staying with our sport.”
She also noted that many athletes from the various high schools also assist with the Play Days, including serving as referees for the scrimmages.
“We’re trying to have them give back and learn, and make our sport grow more,” said Hostig.
Another impactful aspect for Hostig is watching her former players grow through the years, and advance to the next level. This includes Lindsey Frank, who Hostig said played in the youth league’s inaugural season, and is currently playing at Northwestern University.
Frank transferred to Northwestern after four years at the University of Richmond, where she twice led the team in points, according to the Northwestern Athletics site. Hostig also taught Frank in elementary school, she said.
“I knew she was just an athlete,” Hostig said. “She got into fourth grade, and I’m like, ‘OK, I’m starting a youth program and you’re in.’ … Now she’s in her last year, and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, we’ve come a long way since then.’”
Another such player is Kelsey Briddell, who played at UAlbany and eventually joined the U.S. National Women’s Field Hockey team.
Hostig said the field hockey community is tight-knit, noting many area teams have shown support for Saratoga field hockey alum Olivia Allen, a 2023 graduate who was diagnosed with cancer in June, according to a GoFundMe page in support of Allen and her family. Several area teams have given gifts, while other teams have worn ribbons in their hair during a game in support, Hostig said.
“It’s been really nice to see that,” said Hostig.
Burnt Hills’ Play Day also included a stand raising money for a ‘Stick It to Cancer’ fundraiser with the American Cancer Society. Saratoga will host its annual ‘Pink Game’ on Oct. 6 against Shenendehowa, with this year’s game raising money in support of Allen, said Hostig.
Again emphasizing the community connection around the sport, Hostig also mentioned that several of her former players have eventually returned to help with the program, including JV head coach Marissa Folts, varsity assistant Sara Marshall, JV volunteer coach Kylie Folts, and modified volunteer coach Jen Allen.
“We all know each other,” said Hostig of the area field hockey community. “It’s a sense of family, and a sense of community, that we’re building and encouraging.”