Philomena Fitzgerald grew up frustrated that she had to travel outside of the city to play field hockey, so when her younger sister faced the same problem Fitzgerald took matters into her own hands and launched Alexandria’s first field hockey program.
Fitzgerald launched AVA Magic, Alexandria’s only field hockey club, with her father Alex Purugganan. The program started with training clinics this spring that have tapped into a small but growing local community of field hockey enthusiasts.
“I started field hockey way back when, maybe 10 years ago, we were looking for a club,” Fitzgerald said. “We looked for a nearby team and the closest one was 45 minutes away. Ten years later and now my sister is in the same spot I was ten years ago.”
For her day job, Fitzgerald works for the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, so she said she has some experience in launching a program like this from the business side.
“That stuff was easier because it’s what I’m used to doing,” Fitzgerald said, “but it’s interesting figuring out events and the club side.”
Purugganan said the program has had a very grassroots start with the pair reaching out to other locals they know through years of playing field hockey outside of the city.
“We’re slowly growing through word of mouth as well and we’re reaching out to ACPS just to make them aware,” Purugganan said. “Although soccer has become really popular, we want people to know there’s another option for girls’ sports here. We’ve had so many outstanding athletes who have played field hockey, but they have to search for a travel team outside of Alexandria. We want to be able to celebrate our own Alexandria athletes and help them represent the city.”
One fo the big selling points for field hockey, Fitzgerald said, is that many of the skills learned in soccer translate well into field hockey.
“It’s very easy to transition from soccer to field hockey, which sounds insane at first because it’s a stick and you can’t use your feet, but it’s 11 v 11 and the positions are similar,” Fitzgerald said. “If you know soccer and you know the tactics, it’s easy to transition that over to field hockey. I went back and forth between soccer and field hockey in high school, and the big thing for me was the environment field hockey brought. It wasn’t just competitive, it was extremely fun. All the girls I met were extremely welcoming and fun.”
Fitzgerald said the program is starting small, with classes for children under 12 and under 14 aiming to “get the basics down and spread awareness.”
The sessions are $65 each for 6th-8th graders or $250 for all four sessions in a season, and $58 per session for 4th-5th graders or $225 for all four sessions.
“I’m extremely optimistic,” Fitzgerald said. “One of our clinics this past Sunday went extremely well. It was new for almost everyone who was there. It was only five girls, but everyone had a great time, everyone was chatting, and a bunch of them signed up for the clinic this Sunday. I’m excited not just for the club itself, but the girls I played with in high school are reaching out to see how they can help.”
An upcoming clinic on Sunday, May 1, from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at George Washington Middle School (1005 Mount Vernon Avenue) is the last clinic for the club’s spring lineup. The plan is to start a new series of clinics in June with visiting coaches from D.C. schools, Bishop-Ireton and a former midfielder from the U.S. National Team.
“We’re building this community,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s a great environment, great girls, but there’s nothing close by. We live in an athletic city, but we want to have more options.”