Leveling the field

Two girls playing field hockey.
Phoebe Bartlett, right, and a few of her teammates switched sides in a field hockey game last year because their opponents were understrength. She followed that up with organizing clinics and soliciting sports equipment for underserved teams in the area.


ate last year, a group of adults met to organize an initiative that could help open the sport of field hockey to more girls in the Pittsburgh area. Or so they thought.

 Phoebe Bartlett, then a junior forward on the Blue Devils team, took the group of her elders to school on what a teenager can accomplish. She joined the meeting having already reached out to various people and lined up players to participate in what they all hoped would be a series of free field hockey clinics.

 “I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. She’s done all of this before any of us had met,’” said Nicole Churches, a former Lebo field hockey coach at the middle school level who remains heavily involved in the sport locally.

“If it wasn’t for Phoebe we wouldn’t have gotten our backsides together.”

Nicole Churches

 The clinics happened, six sessions at Cupples Stadium on the South Side, last June and July. They were, by all accounts, a success. But to understand the breadth of that, you have to check out the backstory.

 The fall 2020 field hockey season happened, though affected by COVID-19. Allderdice of the City League was playing at Lebo. The score was lopsided. Allderdice had only the minimum number of girls, so no substitutions or breaks.

 Phoebe saw that her opponents were upbeat despite the situation, and her sense of sportsmanship and love of field hockey kicked in. She and three other Lebo players switched sides and finished the game playing with the Allderdice girls.

 “They were so excited. And then on the field they were so nice,” Phoebe, of Lindendale Drive, said.

 More needed to be done.

 Phoebe’s mother, Melissa, got involved. Others included Mt. Lebanon Field Hockey board member Stacie Hill, Churches, Allderdice coach Wendy Kramer and officials from the Pittsburgh City League.

Portrait of Pheobe Bartlett
Bartlett plans to end her field hockey career at the high school level, but hopes to coach at the clinics she helped to establish.

A lot of red tape later, the clinics came together. Various area schools—Ellis School, Peters Township and Pine-Richland among them—donated coaches’ time or equipment or even funds they raised, and Dick’s Sporting Goods became a sponsor. They had 23 girls registered, from pre-high school through high school age.

 Phoebe, who helped run the clinics, said they began with fundamentals and worked up to scrimmages, trying to keep things fun while teaching the girls more about field hockey.

 As an offshoot, the City League agreed to let girls from any city of Pittsburgh school, many of which don’t have field hockey, play for Allderdice.

 “It really sparked some interest,” said Kramer, who is in her second season coaching Allderdice this fall after feeling her way through coaching a sport new to her last year. She got involved in the clinics and growth initiative after seeing the generosity of the Lebo girls who switched sides in their game and then getting a follow-up email from Phoebe.

 Phoebe was born in England, homeland of her father, Graham. The Bartletts moved to Mt. Lebanon when Phoebe was 2. She started playing for Mt. Lebanon Field Hockey when she was in seventh grade. She saw then the dedication some have to the sport, which below the high school level isn’t sanctioned by the school district.

 “Basically, the board organized it,” Melissa Bartlett said. “There were no buses. They painted the lines on the field with baby powder. It was tough to get going.”

 Phoebe prospered and began playing on club teams and going to camps, including one in England, and eventually found herself in position to help grow the sport among local girls.

 “She’s an amazing young woman, I think,” Churches said.

 There’s no kicking in field hockey, but there’s a kicker to this story. Phoebe’s college aspirations are focused on the Washington, D.C., area, but she plans to give up field hockey after this senior season to focus on academics. She knew this through her whole endeavor to open the sport to more girls in the Pittsburgh area. She wanted to be involved anyway.

 “I feel like I was so lucky in my opportunities in hockey and where it’s taken me,” she said. “I’ve met some of my best friends playing hockey. And to see those girls who genuinely loved it but didn’t have the things I’ve been able to have, I just wanted them to have the same things. I feel like I’ve learned so much through it.”

 If the clinics are held again next summer, which is Phoebe’s hope, she said she would love to again help out during her break from college.

Photo by Harrison Lilley