By Cindy O. Herman
For The Daily Item
SELINSGROVE -- When the Selinsgrove Area High School field hockey program started in 1964, physical education teacher Sandy Murphy took on coaching and transportation duties.
"She apparently recruited kids to play field hockey," said assistant coach Donna Prince. "She drove them (to games) in her car."
She apparently also formed the team without official school sanctions. Supposedly, Selinsgrove's then-principal, Charlie Fasold, was at a meeting where Milton principal Dick Fisher bet $5 that the Black Panthers would beat the Seals in field hockey, to which Fasold replied, "We don't have a hockey team."
"He didn't know," Prince said.
After that, however, the team apparently became official enough for school transportation.
"I talked to people on the '65-'66 team," Prince said, "and they didn't remember being driven in a car."
The 1964 team played Lewisburg and Milton, three times each. Selinsgrove's record was 1-5.
"That was the only year that Selinsgrove lost more games than they won," Prince said.
Indeed, Selinsgrove field hockey has grown to be the team to beat, with six undefeated seasons, 23 district championships, 24 League championships, and a state silver medal.
A big part of their success comes from consistent coaching, from the junior high level on up. This is Cathy Keiser's 30th year as head coach, and she's surrounded by talented assistants.
"I coached Cathy, actually," Prince said.
"My senior year (1977)," Keiser confirmed with a smile.
Prince played field hockey for the Seals, graduating in 1972 then coaching from 1976 to 1983. Assistant coach Missy Bingaman was a sophomore player when Keiser took over as head coach in 1984. Bingaman has helped coach five years, and Roz Erb has been coaching for 15.
"It's just such a pleasure to coach with Roz," Keiser said. "She just loves the girls and has such great advice for them. She still connects with players after graduation. She's very loved. And respected."
The camaraderie and mutual respect among the women shows in the way they joke with each other, and it can't help but rub off on the players.
"Cathy has always provided more opportunities for the kids to play than any other school district," Erb said. "I can remember when we were the only school that did national indoor events."
The school team holds its own against select club teams in U.S. field hockey events, which helps build their pride and confidence.
"They know they can compete with the other kids (at the next level)," Erb said. "Once that kicks in, once they see -- success breeds success."
Both Keiser and Prince remember when the only organized sports available to girls were softball, basketball and field hockey. They played all three, and wished they could have played more.
"I was like Cathy," Prince said. "I stood at the fence at the Little League field and watched the boys play."
As important as passion for the game is, the coaches encourage the girls to think beyond field hockey with community outreach events and a player mentoring system.
"They know that it's not just about them," Prince said. "This world is bigger than them."
"We can see other teams yelling at each other on the field, and we don't allow that," Erb said. "We tell the seniors to set the tone. Look out for the kids that need you."
On sealsfieldhockey.com, U.S. Olympic team member and former Seals player Keli Smith-Puzo (1993-96) recalled losing to Keiser in sprints.
"As a player, you would never dare complain about running, or she would show you she could do it and beat you!" Smith said. "She challenges her players to not only be better players but also better people."
"She's still challenging kids to sprints," Erb said. "And winning."
"It was only 40 yards," Keiser said, somewhat abashed, and the others laughed.
Keiser stressed the importance of having support from the players, families, assistants and her husband, Ben Keiser.
"When you really enjoy something, and you have such great support and assistance..." she paused. "My husband was always there for me. And the girls, they make my day. You come here and they're smiling and they want to talk to you, and it's just a joy to be around them."
n Cindy O. Herman lives in Snyder County. Contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter @CindyOHerman.