'IT'S ALREADY HOME'
National team's move to county a great fit BY PETE KAUFFMAN, Sports Staff
"May the journey begin."
That's how Spooky Nook Sports founder Sam Beiler ended his portion of Friday's press conference, where Nook Sports and USA Field Hockey formally announced their partnership to move the home of the Women's National Field Hockey team from California to Lancaster County.
It's a new journey in more ways than one for both USA Field Hockey and Nook Sports, which is transforming a former Armstrong distribution center into what is being called the largest indoor sports complex in the country.
For the field hockey program, it's kind of a return to its roots, as a majority of the players that make up the squad are from the eastern part of the country.
For Nook Sports, it's the beginning of a new, state-of-the-art, family-centric facility that's expected to be completed this spring. Construction is ongoing, and the original target date of March 1 is still being used, although Ben Halvorsen, Nook's marketing director, said that date is flexible.
While it's still under construction, Nook Sports' economic impact already is being felt.
According to Halvorsen, the year-one numbers (mid-2013 to mid-2014) should total about $25.2 million, which includes about $10 million to local businesses in construction costs for the 65-acre site in East Hempfield Township. All of the investment is private money, spearheaded by Beiler, the former owner of Auntie Anne's pretzels.
When the facility is up and running, it will have about 50 full-time and 50 part-time employees, according to Halvorsen.
Included in that number is the staff that USA Field Hockey will be bringing when the mid-summer move from its current home base in Chula Vista, Calif., is completed.
It's USA Field Hockey moving here that created the most buzz among the crowd of about 400 athletes, coaches, media and spectators during Friday's event.
"I think moving USA Field Hockey from California to Lancaster is a great, smart move,'' said Jill Witmer, who attends the University of Maryland, played at Penn Manor and is in the Olympic team pipeline.
"I'm absolutely ecstatic about the program moving to Spooky Nook,'' said Laura Gebhart, who's on the Under-21 National Team, plays for Penn State and graduated from Donegal. "The East Coast -- Lancaster County, especially -- is a hotbed for field hockey. ... I'm hoping the new location will allow me to take advantage of the spectacular players and coaches in the program more frequently."
Halvorsen said Spooky Nook is an ideal place for the national team because the area has such a strong tradition in the sport.
"There's nowhere else in the country that can match the high school grass roots, consistent high volume of quality players that Lancaster produces, and USA Field Hockey recognizes that as well," Halvorsen said. "The tagline has become 'The Home of Hockey,' but we all know it already was the home of hockey, so I guess we're bringing hockey to its true home.
"It's not even like field hockey is a Northeast strength, it's a Lancaster strength. There is no nucleus anywhere else in the country that matches Lancaster. The fan base here is off the chart," he added.
Former Hempfield and Old Dominion standout Pam Neiss Stuper, who was an alternate for the 1996 U.S. Olympic squad, said the impact of having the national team players in the area goes beyond just hockey.
"Having Olympians and national team members involved in the community, they become mentors and role models, and not just for hockey, but for a lot of girls sports,'' said Stuper, the head coach at Yale who also serves on the boards of USA Field Hockey, the International Hockey Federation and the Pan American Hockey Federation.
Katelyn Falgowski, who, along with current Olympic squad teammates Lauren Crandall, Rachel Dawson, Katie O'Donnell, Jackie Kintzer and Caroline Nichols, attended Friday's event, was equally strong in her praise of the facility and the move to Lancaster County.
"It's amazing. You really could not ask for more," Falgowski said. "We've gotten such a warm embrace from the community. It's already home."
Falgowski and her teammates are expected to settle near the facility, with many taking jobs coaching in the various field hockey programs Spooky Nook will offer.
The women's national team will have its own private entrance to the Nook facility, along with a team-only weight-training area, locker rooms and various other meeting rooms and both indoor and outdoor fields.
The squad will use the soon-to-be-built water-based artificial turf field under a climate-controlled dome for most of its training.
"Being able to train year-round, like in Chula Vista, was an important part of the equation," Ashley Meunier, communications manager of USA Field Hockey, said of relocating to Lancaster County. "Having the dome allows us to do that."
Having the dome available played a big part in the decision-making process to move the squad, according to USA Field Hockey Executive Director Steve Locke, who said the group will pay to use the Nook site, but declined to give specific details on the financial aspect of the deal.
"We did our due diligence," Locke said of comparing the finances involved.
The financial aspect takes into account more than just the physical facility and includes everything from the cost of flying team members from their homes to California, to the athletes securing jobs, to the cost of living for the athletes.
"When we weighed them all -- Lancaster vs. Chula Vista -- the greater (financial) advantage was to be here in Lancaster," added Locke.
So Lancaster County soon will become the home of hockey, as the journey to bring the women's national team to Spooky Nook moves forward.