When the staff at Spooky Nook Sports read an anonymous complaint about the food it serves the U.S. women’s field hockey team that’s based there, it was flabbergasted.

The stinging criticism was in a recent online petition alleging wide-ranging shortcomings in the struggling national men’s and women’s field hockey programs.

Perhaps the harshest allegation was that the Nook provided the women’s team, headquartered at the Nook since 2013, with “rotten food, under-cooked food and low-quality food.”

“It was definitely a shock,” said Nook marketing manager Mackenzie Bender on Monday.

“We take a lot of pride in our food service,” she added during a media tour of the team’s facilities intended to debunk the petition’s claims about the Nook.

The Nook’s chef and the team collaborate to create menus for the lunches and dinners served to the team and Nook staff, said Bender.

“It’s the same food our CEO eats,” she noted.

In the six years that the women’s team has been at the Nook, the Nook has provided them 12,000 meals, such as salmon and couscous, prepared in a commercial kitchen in the building.

The Nook has gotten two complaints in that time from the team, according to Bender. One complaint said an apple had a brown spot on the bottom. She didn’t recall the other.

LNP reported on what the team ate leading up to the 2016 Rio Olympics. Click here to read that story.

Unsigned petition

The Change.org petition, which had garnered 5,700 signatures as of Monday afternoon, drew coverage from LNP | LancasterOnline, PennLive and The Philadelphia Inquirer last week.

The unsigned petition, which states it's the work of both the men's and women's teams, comes as both squads are slumping; neither qualified for the 2020 summer Olympics in Tokyo. It says its recommendations are intended to get both teams back on the upswing.

The Nook — once a distribution center for Armstrong flooring, now the largest indoor sports complex in North America — is a major economic engine for the county.

Near Route 283, the Spooky Nook Road facility employs 720 people and annually attracts 1.3 million visitors, who generate a healthy demand for services.

That headcount has triggered construction of four nearby hotels and several restaurants. At least one nearby gas station now gets its storage tanks refilled twice as often, a Nook executive said.

Inside the Nook, the women’s team leases 10,000 square feet of space — an area roughly equal to two NBA basketball courts — and has use of indoor and outdoor fields (or “pitches”).

The leased space includes a performance training center (with weights, exercise bikes etc.), media room (for watching game video), locker room, lounge, trainer’s rooms, coaches’ offices and other spaces.

Always open to the team

The team’s space and private parking lot are off limits to everyone except the team; all is available to the players and coaches 24/7.

The Nook spent “millions” creating the leased space and pitches to the team’s specifications, said Nook Chief Operations Officer Jim Launer.

While the petition cites a “need for meeting rooms/locker room,” Launer said, “I have a hard time believing that was referring” to the Nook, suggesting the men’s team has such issues at its California base.

The Nook’s lease to the USA Field Hockey, the parent of the women’s team, runs into 2028. Nook officials declined to disclose the annual rent.

The petition also revisits the Nook’s issues with the condition of the outdoor pitch’s artificial turf, saying the International Hockey Federation “condemned” the turf as “unusable” and “unsafe” — language that the Nook officials felt overstated the issue. The federation itself did not use those words.

As LNP reported in November, the turf fell short of a new international standard -- a ball dropped from a height of one meter bounced one centimeter too high -- and will be replaced.

However, the NCAA deemed the turf playable and used the pitch for the Division III championships that same month. Nook officials said the new turf is set to be installed by the end of March.

Inside, Bender said the Nook found no evidence of a fungus problem on the domed field or a faulty turf-watering system, which were alleged by a former USA Field Hockey Foundation board member in the Inquirer story.

Matt Soto, the Nook’s director of field hockey operations, explained that the irrigation helps the ball travel more smoothly, lessens bounces and prevents players from suffering friction burns.

“In fact ... the water irrigation system has a solution added to it to purify the system specifically to prevent mildew from happening,” Bender said.

USA Field Hockey and women’s team officials did not respond to LNP’s requests for comment on the petition.