Denise “Gobie” Gobrecht has spent the last 40 summers on the July desert of Cape Henlopen State Park’s parade grounds as a coach/counselor at the Mid-Atlantic Field Hockey Camp. The camp goes Sunday night to Thursday afternoon and recycles two straight weeks. Camp numbers fluctuate from 140 to 250 athletes. Juvenile deer prance along the tree line in single file. The Atlantic Ocean is a short jog to the east. The atmosphere is uniquely raw, different from the digitized world of field turf made faster by water cannons. Mid-Atlantic is cast-iron CrossFit versus Pilates of summer field turf hockey.
A pedigree of coaches going back to Linda Kreiser, who started as camp director in 1978 and went on to win 700 games at Lower Dauphin High School in central Pennsylvania, are in the rearview mirror. Kreiser is still coaching kids and making a difference; her summer Lend A Hand program just raised $14,000 for a former player with cancer.
Frannie Slabonik, the 10th of 14 children, first attended Mid-Atlantic as a camper in 1978.
“I come from a family of careless Catholics,” she joked. Slabonik bought the camp from Rich Miller in 2005. Miller also ran the Eastern Shore Basketball Camp in 1974 until the gym was torn down.
Gobie Gobrecht, 61, is finishing her final year as a camp counselor and coach at Mid-Atlantic. Gobrecht was a three-sport athlete at J.P. McCaskey High School in Lancaster, Pa., playing field hockey and basketball, and running track. She then went to Lock Haven University from 1974-78, playing four years of field hockey and basketball.
“There were no Title IX or equalization issues that I was aware of,” she said. “Field hockey coach Sharon Taylor always looked out for us.”
Gobrecht taught health and physical education at Fairfield High School, near Gettysburg, Pa., for six-and-a-half years while coaching field hockey, basketball and softball, and serving as the school’s athletic director.
“I went back to McCaskey and taught and coached another 27 years,” Gobrecht said. “I counted 25 years that I coached three sports.”
“My strength was relationships and making a difference in the way kids look at themselves through sports. There is a lot of pressure to win and pressure from parents looking for their kids to be recruited, and that’s all fine, but the emphasis has to be on being a student-athlete while at the same time providing your athletes the opportunity to move through the pipeline, whether that's playing in college or making that national team.”
Gobrecht has coached the last 12 years at Penn Manor High School in Millersville, Pa., with head coach Matt Soto. Penn Manor is a perennial district powerhouse; the Comets won 10 section titles and the state championship in 2008.
“We also had our own hockey club,” she said. “And when Sam Beiler purchased the Auntie Anne’s pretzel empire from his sister Anne, then sold it to buy the the Old Armstrong Distribution Center and turned it into Spooky Nook, the largest sports complex in the United States, we were hired as coaches and brought our club with us. Matt also had a connection to USA Hockey. We coach about 250 athletes each season from the Mid-Atlantic states.”
The Nook U19 team just won the Club National Championship, while the U16 team placed second. “The Nook club teams are nationally ranked in all age groups,” Gobrecht said.
Coach Gobie’s face when pitched the questions, “Have kids today changed? Are they harder to motivate?” looked like she’d just been asked to recite the pythagorean theorem backward. She just wasn’t seeing it, wasn’t feeling it.
“At Penn Manor, we make opportunities and our kids take advantage,” she said. “They see the success that has gone before them and they want to be a part of it. We stress being a student-athlete - it’s always about the academics and life outside hockey.”
Coach and teacher Denise “Gobie” Gobrecht has been a lifelong student-athlete and teacher-coach. The parts are conjoined, they are inseparable, and the legacy is passed down and embedded in her athletes, athletes very much different and very much the same, over the last 40 years.
Addendum: The Mid-Atlantic Field Hockey Camp celebrates its 40th year July 16-20 and 23-27 at Cape Henlopen State Park.
Slabonik and her staff of former and present high school and college coaches and college players instruct girls from fourth to 12th grade in the fundamentals through advanced skills and strategies needed to be a competitive player in today’s field hockey world.
The Mid-Atlantic Field Hockey Camp is sanctioned by the United States Field Hockey Association.
For more information, go to http://www.midatlanticfieldhockey.com.