–By Ottawa Sportspage, for Nepean Nighthawks
When the Nepean Nighthawks were born 10 years ago, field hockey development in Ottawa was dormant. Now, 10 years later, the 200-strong club is in need of a new facility to accommodate the steady growth that’s made it a recognized name on the local, provincial, national and international field hockey scene.
As the club hosted its annual tournament in June – now split over two weekends at the Nepean Sportsplex’s Minto Field – the mood was celebratory.
“I don’t know where the time went, to be honest,” smiles club co-founder Sandeep Chopra, whose university-aged children were “just little” when the club started. “Next thing we know, at five years we had legitimate teams playing in tournaments.
“Then something even crazier happened. These other clubs popped up in the area, like in Chelsea and Gatineau, and there was a revival.”
Hitting the 10-year mark is “a huge milestone for the club and the sport in the region,” says Ian Bird, a past Canadian Olympian and leader of the Chelsea Phoenix Field Hockey Club.
“The Nighthawks have really been the centre of bringing everything back, then growing the number of participants, and creating new opportunities. They’ve made a huge contribution,” Bird highlights. “But in typical Nighthawks fashion, they’re already thinking about what they are going to achieve in the next 10 years.”
Securing more field time and building a field hockey-specific facility is currently the club’s top priority. Even over two weekends for different age groups, tournament space is maxed out.
The club can no longer recruit new players into its existing programs, and playing time for university students/adults is in jeopardy, which makes it difficult to engage the next generation of coaches, umpires, volunteers and organizers.
“We’re at a real crossroads for sure. We’re exploding. We need capacity,” signals Chopra, whose club has submitted a Community Partnership Major Capital Program proposal to the City of Ottawa to help fund a dedicated field hockey facility at an estimated cost of $3.5 million. “Hopefully we’ll be able to work together in a partnership and make that happen.”
Great heights, great community
Nepean has become a hotbed for developing young field hockey talent. The Nighthawks have captured provincial and Ontario Summer Games titles, and last year powered Eastern Ontario to a first-ever national crown, earning gold at the U18 boys’ level.The club has sent numerous players on to university scholarships and Team Canada, including a pair who helped our country to its best international field hockey performance of all time when they won silver at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games.
But more than trophies, Chopra says the club takes pride in simply offering programs from top to bottom, from U10 recreational up to high-performance. And having facilitated a beautiful blend of cultures between the traditional field hockey and ice hockey communities.
“We’ve had a lot of great families, and enjoyed the pleasure of watching their kids grow up,” underlines Chopra, who takes great satisfaction when players ask to list him as a reference in their job applications. “When we look back on the thousands of kids who have played field hockey here in Nepean, we’re very proud of that.”