Bell realizes fate, turns toward supporting role

By Todd McMahon

During a time like this, members of NIU’s field hockey team need all the support they can get.

After Athletic Director Gerald O’Dell announced his intention to drop field hockey at a coaches’ meeting on April 1, coach Laurie Bell wouldn’t have been faulted for creating havoc around campus.

But she took the notice in stride and for the last two weeks, instead of getting involved with possible lawsuits and a threatening letter from another field hockey coach against NIU, Bell has been a coach, an adviser and, in a sense, a mother to the nine remaining players from last year’s squad.

“It’s a very tough situation and a very sensitive issue,” Bell said after Wednesday’s Athletic Board meeting, where O’Dell formally proposed his recommendation to cut field hockey and to replace it with women’s soccer.

“I’m glad that I’m not in Gerald’s shoes right now and glad that I didn’t have to make it (the decision).

“The kids are my number one concern right now. It’s a trauma to their lives.

“I feel, most of all, for my players and their parents. My interest lies in helping them transfer.

“I want what’s best for them. I want to be a good backup for them. In case they need help, I will be there as a safety net.”

As far as finding other schools for the players, Bell is working day in and day out searching for any takers.

“There’s been some interest,” Bell said. “But rosters at most schools are being filled, and as far as financial aid, there’s not a lot out there.”

The consensus right now is the majority of the players will remain at NIU. If they do stay, NIU will honor all scholarship commitments.

As far as O’Dell’s rationale for dropping the program, which centered around a decline regionally and nationally of the sport of field hockey, Bell agreed that the sport is lacking in the Midwest.

“Field hockey is a regional sport,” she said. “There is a risk with field hockey in the Midwest and West. It hasn’t been an extremely solid sport in the Midwest.”

Although Bell will not pinpoint any one reason why her program may not exist after the Athletic Board votes on May 6, she said a meeting last year with members of the former Midwest Collegiate Field Hockey Conference gave her a bad feeling.

The five other members of the league decided to return to the Big Ten after Penn State was accepted into the conference. Consequently, NIU was left out and would have been an independent next season.

“I told them, ‘when you decide to boot us, you’re putting our program’s future in serious jeopardy,'” Bell said.