By Sabrina Almeida
Bramptonian Ashley Mendonca was part of the Canadian Under-21 Women’s National Team that recently competed in the Junior Women’s Pan American Championships (a 2016 Junior World Cup qualifier) in Trinidad and Tobago. Can-India News caught up with the University of New Hampshire Sophomore’s hockey-playing family which is very passionate about the game.
Her parents, Cassius and Abigail Mendonca founded the A&C Field Hockey Academy in Brampton in 2010. Being skilled field hockey players with a deep love for the sport, their main aim was to revive interest in the game. Beginning with just four athletes—Ashley, her twin sister Chelcie and two others, the academy now has 40 to 50 women athletes aged 14 to 20 years.
“We prepare them based on what they want to do,” says dad Cassius. “In 2014, we had 9 athletes who went to the NCAA Division on full scholarships, 2 joined the University of Toronto and were on the Senior Women’s National Team squad, and one played at the Pan Am games. My twin daughters both play in the Boston area in Division 1 schools.”
He credits wife Abigail with being the brainchild behind the venture which took advantage of a passion they both shared. Here are the excerpts of an interview with the academy’s director, Abigail Mendonca.
Why a field hockey academy for women?
In North America field hockey is typically a female sport. I was shocked at the quality of kids making the team, pretty much anyone who showed up made it. Both Cassius and I have extensive field hockey experience. I played for team Ontario for 15 years and also coached at the University of New Brunswick for 5 years. Cassius coached the indoor women’s field hockey team in Venezuela in 2010. We have also been volunteering our whole lives. I thought about trying a different method where we could dedicate more time to it.
Was it difficult to get your idea off the ground?
It’s a process. First, we have to create awareness about the sport. Once we get the kids’ attention, we then educate and put them into various programs. It’s not easy. We’ve grown a little bit as a sport, but not enough. Both change and growth are slow.
What is the academy’s purpose?
Every athlete that comes to our program works with us to set goals. They have to commit to themselves as well as us in order for it to work. That’s why our success rates are so high– 90 to 95%.
Is this your dream come true?
I’ve always loved the sport and achieved a lot in it. It made a difference in my life, who I was and am. The most confident moment in my life was when I had a field hockey stick in my hand. That is why I chose to do this.
Why is sport important?
I think sport is an incredible benefit to the quality of life. If it is recognized and treated correctly, it becomes a lifelong effort. When this happens it increases longevity of life from a fitness perspective. Kids that play sports learn to organize themselves. We’ve seen that when kids are involved in a good sports program, their grades increase. Over the last years our athletes have averaged 86%. Sports rounds out the person—it gives them social skills and allows them to be competitive in a controlled environment. It teaches them to strive and become better. This is an important part of life and career. Sports also enhances women’s confidence and self-esteem. Even though we’ve come so far as women, it is still difficult unless you are confident. Sports gives women that confidence and extra edge whether it’s in their families or the workforce.
What is your vision for the academy?
Hopefully the academy will have a hand in helping field hockey become a thriving sport. I’d like to create a legacy for my children (Cassius and Abigail have two more children, 10-year-old Ayden and 9-year-old Jada) so that they can expand it the way they choose when they have their own vision. I am also hoping that the academy will become a household name in field hockey and eventually grow big, perhaps across Canada. That people will trust us to get their kids where they want to go.
Growing up in field hockey mode – Ashley and Chelcie share their experiences
What drew you to field hockey?
Ashley: Field hockey was not questionable in our family. We started playing when we were about 8 years old. My dad was a coach at the time, and my sister and I were forced to go to practice with him. It took a while for me to enjoy and find a passion for field hockey, but as I grew up and saw the opportunities and goals I could achieve by playing, I was hooked.
Chelcie: Field hockey was a one of the greatest factors of my life as I grew up. My parents are the reason I was drawn to such a great sport! Without them, I would not be a proud Eagle at Boston College. They taught me how to make field hockey not just a hobby but also a lifestyle and passion.
What is it like coming from a field hockey family?
Ashley: It can be very difficult at times coming from a family that lives and breathes the sport. However, my family are my biggest critics and the whole reason why I am where I am today. I wouldn’t trade talking about game plans at dinner every night for the world. It’s also a blessing to have parents who know the game and can be your biggest fans as well as your best coaches.
Chelcie: We live in a household where everyone’s mentality is set to “field hockey mode.” Being raised in a family that revolves around sport has taught me how to positively handle criticism and use it as motivation. It’s also a blessing to be able to learn more at any second of the day, since you live with the two coaches that know you best! I am also thankful for having the two greatest fans!
What is your field hockey dream?
Ashley: My field hockey dream is playing for the national team. Of course every athlete dreams of making it to the Olympics, but right now I am focused on contributing to the development of our national team program.
Chelcie: I aspire to compete with the Women’s Canadian National Team. As for now (at the time of the interview), I hope to have a large impact on the Boston College Field Hockey team as I finish up my sophomore year. – CINEWS