1973 Field Hockey team put Granby on the map

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Team photo from Rob Penfield’s book, with permission.

Fifty years ago, on Nov. 17, 1973, when Mary Brynes scored the winning goal with 28 seconds left in the second overtime, Granby’s Field Hockey team beat Guilford 2 to 1 in the first ever Field Hockey State Championship. As author Rob Penfield stated, this win “put Granby on the map.”

That winning goal made the Granby Field Hockey players mini celebrities; Pam Sproull, a player on the team, described how “people were asking us for our autographs.” Not only did the field hockey team win its first ever state-wide field hockey championship, but it was also Granby Memorial High School’s first state championship in any sport. This team paved the way for the field hockey teams following them that have won 13 more state titles.

The players in that 1973 Championship game included: the Sproull sisters, Pam and Joanne, the Wickman sisters, Lyndsie and Jody, Sue Hebert, Sue Jensen, Sharon Schnieder, Valerie McCord, Linda Dewey, Mary Brynes, Nancy Hutchins and Ellen Burbridge. The girls lived all over town, from Fern Hollow Drive to Quarry Road to Copper Hill Road, and met in one place to practice: the pit. The pit was the lower field at the high school, where the best field hockey team in the state practiced and played.

Unlike today, athletes didn’t play on artificial turf or use fiberglass field hockey sticks. They played in the thick grass with wooden sticks. By the end of the season, the field became meager patches of grass, as the players’ cleats chewed up the grass and much of the field became dirt, leading to unpredictable passes over the bumpy ground.

For four years, under Coach Dot Johnson, the ‘73 team didn’t lose a game. Each player had an essential role—some players could score goals, others assisted with great passes and some were staunch defenders. Johnson was a tough but fair coach who demanded hard work from her players. She helped make the team competitive and formidable to opponents.

Documenting this team’s success was Simsbury native Rob Penfield an American International College graduate and Vietnam War veteran. Familiar with field hockey from watching games when he attended Simsbury High School, Penfield also played field hockey in the army, developing an understanding of the game and the rules. He later became the sports editor of the Farmington Valley Herald.

Penfield wrote a book about the 1973 season entitled, A Life of Obstructions, the 1973 Connecticut Field Hockey Season and first ever Tournament. Penfield writes about the 1973 season and tournament, describing the various teams competing. He describes how Granby played five tournament games, four of which went into overtime. Granby was full of tough players and, as Dot Johnson was quoted in the Hartford Courant, “…these girls are not afraid of competition.” And they weren’t, as they went on to win.

Penfield will be speaking about the 1973 GMHS season in the high school Commons on Wednesday, Oct. 4 at 6:30 p.m. Please call the high school at 860-844-3014 and ask for the Athletic Department to register. A head count is required in case the program needs to move to the auditorium to accommodate attendance.

If you like to know more about the history of Granby field hockey and other sports at the high school, join the Salmon Brook Historical Society by calling 860-653-9713 or visiting salmonbrookhistoricalsociety.com