Wheaton’s 1983 field hockey team will reunite this fall

The 1983 Wheaton College field hockey team, which was the school’s first field hockey team to advance to the NCAA tournament, will reunite when it is inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame.
Marvin Pave
The 1983 Wheaton College field hockey team, which was the school’s first field hockey team to advance to the NCAA tournament, will reunite when it is inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame.

Wheaton team reunites for Hall of Fame ceremony

Debi Field McGrath, head coach of the 1983 Wheaton College field hockey team that advanced to the NCAA Division 3 tournament for the first time in program history, has moved on and has been the longtime director of athletics at Colby-Sawyer College.

But her memories of that Wheaton team remain vivid and exhilarating.

“I knew this team was incredibly talented, but I was never going to tell them that because they had to realize it on their own,” recalled McGrath, who played on the US National Field Hockey Select Team. “The chemistry was right, the personnel were right, and we had nothing to lose at the NCAA tournament because we had never been there before.”


Walpole High graduates and lifelong friends Paula McFarland-Mayo and Maribeth Burke were freshmen starters on that team. Burke, whose late father, Jim Burke, was athletic director at Walpole High, was beginning a record-setting four years in goal.

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Janet Kelly, who grew up in Cheshire, Conn., and now resides in Quincy, was an All-American defender and “the cornerstone of our team,” according to McGrath.

All four will be recognized Oct. 4 at the Norton school’s Beard Field House when the inaugural Yowell Athletic Hall of Fame class will be enshrined.

The field hockey squad, which went 13-3 and defeated host Salem State, 2-0, in the NCAA tournament’s first round, will be inducted as a group. In that game, McFarland-Mayo and Kelly were the goal scorers and Burke was perfect in net.

McGrath, a 1970 Wheaton graduate who had previously coached the field hockey and lacrosse teams at Harvard, returned to Wheaton in 1981 when Harvard associate athletic director Niki Janus became Wheaton’s athletic director. She left in 1984 to coach at Dartmouth College.


She remembers Kelly as “focused, intense, and talented, a person who brought out the best in her teammates.”

Burke, nicknamed “MB,’’ was easygoing and humorous off the field and “as intense as she could possibly be” on it, said McGrath.

“And without question, Paula was an offensive force,” said McGrath, whose assistant field hockey coach at Wheaton, Lee Walter, was a teacher and coach at Walpole High. “What I remember most is they were a wonderful group of women, and I’m looking forward to seeing them in October and learning where they are in their life’s journey.”

McFarland-Mayo resides in Newton, N.H., and is a financial planner for prospective college students. Burke, her college roommate, lives in West Roxbury and is a health care professional.

They first met as seventh-graders and were members of some powerhouse field hockey teams at Walpole High, coached by Sue Brainerd, who has moved to Hilton Head, S.C.


“She was a great motivator and a great teacher of the game,” recalled McFarland-Mayo, “and so when we arrived at Wheaton we were ready for the college game and we came with a tradition of winning.”

Burke, whose father was Walpole’s athletic director from 1963-1988, said she had always dreamed of playing field hockey in high school.

“Sukie [Brainerd] was an amazing coach, and you were proud to be part of her team,’’ said Burke, who ranks first in the Wheaton field hockey record book in wins (35), shutouts (23), and goals against average (1.09).

Burke said McGrath scouted Walpole during its tournament games.

“How often do you come to a Division 3 school and get coached by a national team player?’’ said Burke. “That was awesome.”

Kelly, who also played for the first Wheaton team to make the NCAA women’s lacrosse tournament — and was that team’s assistant coach in 1987 — said the news (via letter) of her dual honor last month came as a surprise even though she has served on Wheaton’s board of trustees for three years.

“Talk about a cloak-and-dagger scenario,’’ said Kelly, a marketing executive. “Our team has never had a formal reunion, and this is going to be a lot of fun. You have to give Debi a lot of credit. She was encouraging from day one and she had a great demeanor.’’

Kelly, who was recently given a water-stained box by her mother that contained mementos and articles from Kelly’s days as a Wheaton student-athlete, said she plans to sift through the material prior to the Hall of Fame ceremonies.

Wheaton, the Norton-based school that began admitting men in 1988 after more than 150 years as a female-only institution, will induct Chad Yowell, its former director of athletics, and current men’s and women’s tennis coach Lynn Miller.

Athletes to be inducted also include Judith Alper-Smith of Braintree (class of ’57/tennis); Deborah Simourian Jamgochian (’76/golf); Ann Zarchen Knobloch (’81/basketball and tennis); Kim Sears (’00/field hockey and softball); Chris Denorfia (’02/baseball); and Amber James (’04/track & field).

Here and there

The second annual 4-mile Nantasket Beach Run will be held Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Murray Bath House in Hull. There is also a walking division. Proceeds benefit the Hull Boosters, who sponsor athletic and extracurricular activities at Hull High School. Day of race registration ($25) is accepted until 6:15 p.m. For registration information, e-mail or call 617-851-4569. . . . Regis College rising senior Ryan Chambers (Abington High) has been named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches 2012-13 Honors Court for meeting a high standard of academic achievement. He is the Waltham school’s all-time leader in three-pointers made (193) and free throw accuracy (78.9 percent).

Marvin Pave can be reached at