Like a painter without a canvas, Liane Dixon understands the frustration of having a talent without an outlet. A native of Vineyard Haven, the 31-year-old Waltham resident is a middle school physical education teacher in Dorchester. She’s also an accomplished field hockey player, twice earning All-American honors at Northeastern University.
But postgraduate opportunities to play the sport she loved were rare, if nonexistent.
One “of the obstacles to continuing to playing field hockey is the proximity of players of a certain caliber,” said Dixon. “The sport is not widely accepted in the States. Although the sport has come a long way, it is more watched and played by the international community. There simply [are] not enough players close to one another to make playing regularly feasible.”
So Dixon and former Husky teammate Mari Creatini employed the “if you build it, they will come” approach. They founded a field hockey league of their own, the North East Premier League, opening with six teams in 2014.
“I knew there were enough players interested in a full-field setup using the international rules,” said Creatini, 32, a native of Argentina. “The biggest challenge is finding appropriate playing surfaces. Being the only sport that benefits from Astroturf – the carpet-looking artificial grass – in lieu of Fieldturf or even grass, there are a limited number of facilities available.”
While beer-league softball and soccer leagues can make do with almost any surface, the NEP founders wanted a field that would match the quality of play. They found a home at Harvard’s Jordan Field.
“What’s great about Harvard is that the surface and format are true to high-level college and international play,” said Chelsey Feole, a 27-year-old North Andover native who played at Boston College. “The camaraderie between my teammates and I, and the rest of the league, is great. Everyone is on the same page, and super thankful for the opportunity.”
In its second season, the league is flourishing, with eight teams and close to 140 players competing on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. The league is coed; each team can have three men playing in field positions (nongoalie) at any given time.
“Here in the United States, [field] hockey is mainly a college women’s sport,” said Carlos Parra, 29, a native of Barcelona, currently doing a 3-year dental residency at Tufts University. “If you aren’t in college and you’re a male, it is hard to find where to practice and play. We’re lucky that Boston organizes this league and also has the Minuteman Field Hockey Club, where college and noncollege people can play on weekends.”
Hockey, which field hockey is called outside of North America, is the third most popular team sport in the world, after soccer/futbol and rugby, said Megan Bozek, 23, a New York native now living in Brighton.
“It’s frustrating to hear that field hockey is considered a ‘nontraditional’ sport,” said Bozek, who played at the University of New Hampshire. “Field hockey started out as a men’s sport, and the men’s game is more widely accepted than the women’s game. So right off the bat, one of the most frustrating things is that there is no equal opportunity for men to play in this country. This is why I am beyond excited that I’m competing in a coed league.”
According to Dixon and Creatini, the NEP league not only allows former players to continue competing, but also will ultimately give up-and-coming players a chance to see the true international game. That version, with 11 players per side, is generally considered to be faster and more exciting.
“The few playing opportunities that are out there lack experienced officials, full-field unmodified rules, or a quality field,” said Creatini. “The NEP offers all the above.’’
The sense of team is an undeniable draw for many players who devoted so much of their time to their sport while in college.
“Going from playing and practicing six times a week in college to just stopping completely was very tough for me,” said Elizabeth Priest, 24, who was a goaltender at Northeastern. A native of British Columbia, she now lives in Boston. “Field hockey was a big part of my life, and I’m so happy I get to continue to play in a competitive league.’’
“You meet new people from all over the world,’’ said Parra. “We have Dutch people, Indians, Americans, British, South Africans, Zimbabweans, Jamaicans, Spaniards, Peruvians, etcetera.’’
“We all trained so hard in our youth at this game,’’ said Lacey Pustizzi, 35, of Hingham, a goaltender for the Cape Ann Coalition team and an assistant coach at Boston University. So when we step on to the field for something we know how to do, it gives us a lot of confidence in our lives. We smile and we laugh and we sweat and we bleed, and then we all go back to our normal lives off the field.”
More details on the North East Premier League can be found at northeastpremier.com . The league will host a daylong festival Aug. 1.
Brion O’Connor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.