While most spent the Thanksgiving weekend with families in a homestyle atmosphere, field hockey players and fans traveled across the country to spend the holiday in South Florida to compete in the world’s largest field hockey tournament. The event marks the third consecutive year that the National Hockey Festival was held at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington.
“The National Hockey Festival is in its 37th year this year. We’ve been here three out of the last five years,” Assistant Tournament Director Glen Hollingsworth said. “We’ve really enjoyed the polo grounds in particular. The venue’s flexibility is fantastic as well, and the community has always welcomed us with open arms. We appreciate the work that the Palm Beach County Sports Commission puts in to make this a real awesome experience for all the athletes.”
This year, 135 teams across five different age divisions converged on the 248 acres of land at the polo grounds to compete. Teams traveled from as far north as Maine and as far west as California, with a couple of clubs traveling from Canada as well, Hollingsworth said. Four clubs participated from Florida. The age groups start at U12 and go up to U19 for both girls and boys, with co-ed divisions as well.
The Palm Beach County Sports Commission has a lengthy relationship with the National Hockey Festival, making its home here on 11 previous occasions. The space at IPC allows 30 fields on the grounds to accommodate the 2,700 athletes from around the nation to compete over the three-day tournament.
Approximately 5,000 people in all spent the weekend in Wellington visiting the many attractions in the Palm Beach County area. Although the tournament, typically hosted over Thanksgiving weekend, is all about the game, the event has also morphed into a college recruitment showcase competition over the last decade, Hollingsworth explained.
“What a lot of these athletes in the U16 to U19 groups in particular are out here to do is be seen by college coaches,” he said. “They’re really trying to chase that college scholarship. We have more than 100 college coaches in attendance for this year’s event.”
The organization staging the festival is also the national governing body in field hockey for the Olympic Games and oversee the sport from the standardization of the rules to the grassroots development of the game. “We are directly involved with selection of the national teams that go and compete in international tournaments,” Hollingsworth said.
Premier Sports Medicine is a national company that has partnered up with USA Field Hockey to provide trainers at every field, in addition to hydration stations, while games are officiated by referees, also from around the country.
A large vendor area occupied the perimeter of the tournament’s main headquarters, along with field hockey clinics taught by famous Olympians like Jamie Dwyer of Australia and Robert van der Horst of the Netherlands.
Lodging, retail shopping and dining establishments from Jupiter to Boca Raton likely felt the surge of business, especially within Wellington, being the center of the eye. For more information on field hockey and the USA Field Hockey Festival, visit www.teamusa.org/USA-Field-Hockey.