It is going to be a busy few months for Paula Parks, the approachable and contemplative Technical Delegate who will be taking charge of the fifth edition of the Pan American Cups and overseeing the smooth operation of this event, which truly showcases PAHF hockey.
Paula has grown into her role with these events. Her first appointment was in 1998 for the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, where she was a judge, now 20 years later, she has reached the official’s pinnacle, as the leader of the army of men and women who strive so hard to make hockey events run smoothly.
When it comes to Pan American Cups, Paula really has developed with the tournament. She has been to four of the five editions, missing just the 2009 Bermuda edition because of family commitments. In 2001 she was a judge, 16 years later she is taking on her second stint as Technical Delegate.
“I would say that the Pan Am Cup has grown very nicely into our Federation’s premier event,” she says, adding that this year will be a real groundbreaker because it is the first dual gender event, with the men’s and women’s championships taking place at the same time at the same venue.
The event, which is taking place at Lancaster in Pennsylvania, is also an opportunity for people involved in hockey across the entire Pan American region to meet, discuss, share knowledge and learn from each other. There will be several PAHF-led meetings, which run in conjunction with the event, and for people from the developing hockey nations to have the opportunity to watch top level hockey and to discuss the game’s development with other people from other regions is, says Paula, one of the great added benefits of the Pan Am Cup. Some of the key side events taking place will be the Level Three Umpiring Course that will be jointly run by the FIH Hockey Academy, PAHF, USA Field Hockey and NCAA; and the Basic Level PAHF Technical Officials Training Workshop, which will look at the roles and responsibilities of being an official as well as the appointments process.
While the USA as a whole is still struggling to adopt field hockey as a national sport, Spooky Nook in Lancaster sits within a hot-bed of hockey. The north-eastern corner of the USA is home to some of the great hockey-playing colleges and the venue itself is home to the USA field hockey team.
Paula is hopeful that the event will draw in large crowds, not just from the hockey community but from the larger population whose interest may be piqued at the thought of a home victory – a hope that is based on the USA women’s national team currently sitting high in the rankings [sixth in the world] and performing well on the world stage.
“Having the women play at home and doing so well currently will help with their promotion of the sport. I hope it will help with the men’s team as well,” says Paula.
For someone with more than 20 years’ experience of officiating at hockey events across the continent, it comes as some surprise that this is Paula’s first event on US soil. She is very conscious that the local organising committee and USA Field Hockey are determined to put on a spectacular show. “This is a premier event and the venue is such a showpiece, the team on the ground really want to showcase it in the best light. They are determined that all the ‘i’s’ will be dotted and the ’t’s’ crossed. I think it is going to be a great event.”
The organisation of a top tier event such as the Pan Am Cup is the last word in cooperation. PAHF offers support and guidance; for the past few months Paula herself has been in regular conversation with USA Field Hockey’s Steve Horgan and Lisa McCoy to reassure them that everything is being run within the technical regulations.
Paul talks about the running of a successful tournament with the calm assuredness of someone who has been there and done it before. She has a way of making the multi-layered, complex demands of an event seem like the simplest and purest of tasks. “So long as two teams take to the field and there are two umpires, you know there is a ‘sameness’ to every tournament,” she says.
In no way is this a belittlement of the efforts of the tournament organisers. Paula points out that every event has its differences – weather, older structures, infrastructure, communications and a heap of other challenges – her point is that everyone is striving for the same outcome, a well-run and enjoyable tournament. “I always jokingly say, you want everyone going away and no-one remembering anything from the technical or umpiring side because everything went smoothly.”
The challenges in Lancaster are most likely to come from the weather. It is an area renowned for its heat and humidity, which might cause athletes a problem. Storms are common, which could cause delays in match schedules, not to mention the daunting prospect of keeping everyone safe in the event of lightening.
On the plus side, the venue has onsite hotels, which is a bonus as it means that teams and officials will not be subject to the vagaries of transport issues and traffic. Arranging transport and the complicated schedules that accompany that task is a major headache that just won’t exist at Spooky Nook.
Paula is just too polite to agree when I said that she might come to regret being onsite 24/7: for the moment, the prospect of being able to walk to the pitch within minutes is a significant benefit of the venue.
In another first, Paula will be backed by an Assistant Technical Delegate. The experienced Argentine Luis Aleman will be Paula’s right-hand man and will be largely responsible for the men’s tournament. It is a development Paula is thrilled about: “As an innovation this will mean nothing to most people, but for me it is a great thing. As Technical Delegate, you can feel a bit isolated but I will have Luis to bounce ideas off and to talk things through. That makes a huge difference.”
When she talks about the legacy of the event, Paula’s enthusiasm reaches new heights. She radiates with excitement about the prospect of seeing some of the lower ranked teams taking on the might of Argentina or the USA.
“At this event you see the whole gamut, from top 10 in the world, top five in the world, top of the world. This is a chance for some of the lower-ranked teams to see what it takes to get to the pinnacle of the sport. The opportunity it provides to those nations – never mind large scores – this is the opportunity to step on a field with a top ranked team and get a feel of what the hockey is like at that stage. I hope they take away “wow, we just played Argentina, and yeah, the score isn't great but that is what it is like to play at that level.”
The same is true of the technical officials and umpires. There will be umpires who have blown the whistle on the biggest hockey stages. There will be umpires for who this is a first international appointment. The same is true of the officials. Paula reports that the umpire managers – Ged Curran, Edmundo Saladino, Louise Knipe and Cynthia Melli – are really doing a “terrific job” of incorporating all the umpires together as a team. By the time the tournament is underway, the team of umpires will be as tight-knit as any of the participating nations.
And despite her years of TD-ing all over the world, Paula remains as excited as a kid in a candy store at the prospect ahead. “I have never done an event in the USA, this is the first tournament I have done here. I have worked with US officials before and it will be nice to see them on their home turf, they are so passionate about putting on an event that really showcases their venue and I want to be there to make sure that happens.”
No matter what storms break over Spooky Nook, after a conversation with the tournament director, there is very little doubt that it will all be handled and dealt with with the calmest and most respectful of ways by this quietly spoken Canadian.