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Author to discuss book about first CIAC field hockey tournament in 1973

Simsbury native Rob Penfield has written a book on the first CIAC field hockey tournament in 1973. Five of the six Farmington Valley teams — Granby, Avon, Simsbury, Lewis Mills and Farmington played in the tournament.

Forty-nine years ago this month, the first CIAC field hockey tournament was held in 1973 in relative anonymity. There are a few short stories in newspapers across Connecticut but few papers are sending reporters to games.

Granby and Guilford met in the first CIAC field hockey tournament on a cold November morning (34 degrees) on a not-so-smooth practice field (Field B) near the historic Yale Bowl in New Haven.

We know this nearly five decades later because Rob Penfield, the sports editor of the Farmington Valley Herald, a small weekly out of Simsbury, was the only reporter at the game.

Penfield’s latest book, A Life of Obstructions, is a look back at that ground-breaking 1973 tournament that included four of the five teams from the area – Granby, Simsbury, Avon and Lewis Mills.

Penfield, who grew up in Simsbury, will be visiting Connecticut to discuss his book and sign copies in two weeks. He will be at the Simsbury library on Wednesday, Nov. 16, at 7 p.m. He was also scheduled to appear at the Canton library but that visit will be rescheduled.

Books won’t be on sale at the library. If you want Penfield to sign it, you’ll have to order it online and bring it to the library. Or, you can just come to talk or listen to Penfield.

The book is a look at that historic first CIAC field hockey tournament. But it also examines the time (1973), a period of change in the nation. It examines the growth of field hockey and the dawn of a new era in local journalism at the Farmington Valley Herald that included additional attention and coverage of high school sports for – in the spirit of Title IX — boys and girls.

It’s also a personal memoir for Penfield, still coming to grips with his service in Vietnam. Penfield was twice wounded and was serving in Vietnam during the Tet offensive in 1968 when the North Vietnamese attacked more than 100 cities and outposts in South Vietnam.

The date of the state championship game was Nov. 17, 1973, and five years earlier to the day, Penfield’s unit in Vietnam was being attacked in a raid in the middle of the night.

The book, his third, is about his growth as a sportswriter and the growth of the Farmington Valley Herald. The weekly newspaper, which dated back to 1881, was discovering that coverage of local high school sports, was helping to increase subscriptions and the copies being purchased at local establishments.

When Penfield contacted a local athletic director to get the fall 1973 schedule for the girls teams to coordinate his coverage, the school official remarked, “It’s about time someone asked for them.”

On the field – spoiler alert – Granby rolled through the tournament to win the first field hockey state championship with a double OT win over Guilford. Their tournament run also included a win over rival Simsbury in the semifinals. Avon played a historic overtime game with Coginchaug over a two-day period that went to overtime and was decided by which team had the most penalty corners.

The detail that Penfield has in the book about the respective games is impressive, considering that the games were played nearly 50 years ago. It’s a peek to a time when some schools borrowed equipment from each other to field teams and attitude towards girls sports from some folks was condensing – consider yourself fortunate to simply have a team.

But it was also a look back at the intensity and desire that the athletes brought to those grass field hockey fields with them that is remarkably similar today.

At the recent Connecticut High School Field Hockey Hall of Fame banquet, Penfield shared specific details about some 1973 games as if they had happened a few hours earlier.

He conducted hundreds of interviews with former coaches and players. Penfield estimated he spent 5,000 hours researching the details about the tournament and he is still annoyed he got some facts wrong.

He dedicated the book to the five women coaching field hockey in the Farmington Valley in 1973 — Bonnie Tyler (Avon), Dot Johnson (Granby), Joan Sullivan (Simsbury), Jean Hunt (Farmington) and Linda Hamm (Lewis Mills).

When he was considering writing the book about the 1973 tournament, he contacted former players and coaches about his idea. “I got back 11 or 12 answers. One girl from Granby wrote me a wonderful note that brought tears to my eyes,” Penfield said. “It said, I don’t know if you can write a book like this and capture what happened but if anyone can, you can.”

Today, he making people aware of the book.

“If they know it’s there, they might want to read it,” he said.

Learn more about Rob Penfield and A Life of Obstructions

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 40 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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