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Original Issue

A well-kept international secret

Almost nobody knew it, but just the other day U.S. field hockey had itself a six-flag jamboree

When it comes to field hockey," says New York's John Rote, coming straight to the point, "I'm like a fanatic: I'll go to any length to promote its growth in the United States." Rote, who has picked a row that would be hard to hoe even with a hoe let alone a hockey stick, is chairman of the Privateers, America's foremost (there is no other) international men's field hockey touring team. Fellow Privateers, who play for the most part in Rye, N.Y. and Greenwich, Conn., share Rote's obsession. To demonstrate as much, they recently went to the extraordinary length of inviting to their home grounds 120 other players from such faraway hockey hotbeds as Spain, the Netherlands Antilles, Bermuda, the West Indies and Canada. John Rote met their planes, paired them off in 22 games, played himself as captain of the Privateers, shepherded his polyglot charges through two days of sightseeing in Washington, D.C., stood up under the pressures of a dozen or so cocktail parties, buffet dinners and outdoor barbecues, and hoped, in weary conclusion, that the third Privateers' International Hockey Festival had been just the tonic American men's field hockey needed.

Traditionally a schoolgirls' game in this country, men in other lands have been playing field hockey for the Lord knows how long: pebble rolling is its prehistoric ancestor, hockey has been an Olympic contest since 1908, and Grecian boys, neatly dressed in nothing, can be seen playing the game on some resurrected amphoras. Even today, when played by its best practitioners, amateur field hockey (the. only kind) attracts crowds of up to 20,000 in India, and enjoys a fair-sized popularity in Europe, Britain and in the West Indies.

Since U.S. girls got hold of it first (the two have been the best of chums since Victorian days), field hockey here is stigmatized as sissy, which it is not. The burden nonetheless has been almost insurmountable—most of the few American men who do play the game are foreign-born and learned it as boys somewhere else (of the Privateers' 40-odd members, only four were born in the U.S.).

It is the Privateers' sustaining conviction, however, that all field hockey needs is a chance to prove itself in America, and that given that chance it would excite and sweep the nation. Largely on the basis of this thought—another was that nebulous but still lively intangible called "international good will and friendship"—the Privateers formed their club five years ago. To their credit, they have never been beaten on U.S. soil. They have been beaten, of course, on the five continents they have visited, but they have never been beaten by Russia. "They won't play us," says John Rote, who adds darkly: "I think they're working very hard building a formidable team. They guard these things just like they do their nuclear bombs."

Donald Duck and Grace Coolidge

Since even field hockey players sometimes tire of their game ("Oh, gosh yes, man," said a West Indian), play was interrupted in midweek for sightseeing in Washington. Transported there by bus, the players were installed in barracks at Boiling Air Force Base. Later, the Spaniards were guests for 90 minutes of the Spanish ambassador (who served his tee-totaling guests that splendid American beverage, Donald Duck canned orange juice), the Antilleans of the Netherlands Minister Plenipotentiary (who was kept waiting 90 minutes by a lost bus), and the Bermudians and West Indians of a Washington-based Privateer (who hurt his back dancing the limbo). A tour of the White House also was arranged—it was in the Red Room that one Spaniard wondered when Grace Coolidge had been President, and it was on the North Porch that everyone wondered where the current President was. Unhappily, he was unavailable, leaving John Rote the sad duty of surrendering to a presidential aide a field hockey stick inscribed with John F. Kennedy's name.

Back at work at field hockey a few days later, the festival ran out its nine-day course. Whether John Rote succeeded in proving his contention that field hockey is as potentially popular as any game going is debatable—the spectators at most of the matches played ranged from zero to three dozen—but fast and furious it certainly was, with enough whacked shins and elbowed noses to test the mettle of any he-man. And the cause of international amity was well served too—unseemly nationalism was never able to intrude upon the polite and well-bred festivities, since the games were scored individually so that no team could claim it had "won the tournament." Entre nous, the Privateers wound up with the best record (five wins and two ties) and Bermuda had the worst (one win and four losses).