Move saddens Huskie pioneer

By Wes Swietek

Barbara Lyles was there at the beginning.

As a 1975 graduate of NIU, Lyles was a member of the Huskie field hockey team that made the transition from club sport to Division I status.

She’s still involved in the game as the head girls’ field hockey coach at Oak Park-River Forest High School.

Now, with the apparent demise of NIU’s field hockey program, Lyles may be a witness to the end.

“It saddens me very much,” Lyles said. “The program has always been strong. I guess it’s the philosophy of the athletic director that this is an unnecessary sport.”

Lyles started coaching at Oak Park in 1978 and has witnessed the decline in interest—hers is one of only 12 schools in the state that still offers field hockey on the club level.

The Illinois High School Association no longer recognizes field hockey as a sanctioned sport.

But Lyles feels that the decline of the sport has leveled off (80 girls came out for field hockey at Oak Park this year) and that field hockey deserves a spot among NIU’s 16 Division I sports.

“I can see (dropping it) if there were no interest, but Northern has always been competitive,” Lyles said. “It’s a financial decision. I guess you have to question the philosophy of the athletic department. Is it to get spectators? On that basis you’d have to cut swimming, gymnastics or any of the minor sports.

“I don’t think attendance should be a criteria for dropping a sport.”

Lyles feels it’s ironic that Northwestern will be the only University left in Illinois that offers field hockey at a time when there’s a growing movement to increase the sport’s participation level.

“The high schools (in the Illinois High School Field Hockey Association) are making a special effort to develop programs in the grade schools. We anticipate a rise in the number of girls participating in field hockey,” Lyles said. “It’s kind of sad.”