Berkeley High’s Brainiest Team

By Al Winslow, Special to the Planet
Tuesday October 02, 2007

Players on the Berkeley High School women’s field hockey team often spend more time riding a bus to their games than playing them. There are few nearby opponents and sometimes they have to ride as far as San Jose. 


“Usually on the bus we do homework together,” said Eden Maloney, the team goalkeeper. “The seniors help out the younger students.” 

“The ride can get bumpy, so the part of homework that has to be neat, we do that between games,” said Sarah Neuhaus. 

“Sometimes we sing,” said Jenny Miner. 

Coach Heather Zona said the hockey team has one of the highest grade point average of the high school teams. 

Maloney arrived at a recent practice with a pile of schoolbooks—Living in the Environment and, from a Bible-as-literature course, a Bible and a thousand or so page book on the Five Books of Moses and a pocket Latin dictionary. 

You have to be smart to begin with to play field hockey or even understand the rules, for example: “It is legal to raise the ball to make an aerial pass provided that the ball is both raised safely and brought down safely and that the opposition players are farther than five meters from the player raising the ball.” 

The game is 4,000 years old. Drawings of it are on ancient Egyptian tombs. It was played by Greeks, Romans, Persians, Arabs and faraway Aztecs, suggesting it is a creation of the collective unconscious, an inborn human desire to hit a ball with a stick. 

It is played on a basically football-sized field with 11 players on a side. Scores are something like 2-1 or 3-2. The idea is to dislodge the ball from the opponent and for the team to keep possession of it, passing it back and forth for the longest time on the theory that the side with the ball the longest is most likely to score the most goals. Finesse is used rather than force.  

Coach Zona, who still plays field hockey on an adult team, demonstrated a common maneuver for controlling the ball, hitting it from the right with the flat of the stick, and since the stick has only one flat side (no reason to make it easy) twisting the stick to hit back from the left. She did this quickly back and forth while explaining the art of her sport. 

“It’s an opportunistic game. Good players don’t just run up and attack the ball, though they will if they have to. They wait and watch for an opportunity,” she said. “But they’re not just waiting for opportunity to knock. They’re looking out the window and seeing it come up the walk.” 


Berkeley High has 60 teams and 1,000 participants, one for every three students, and a sports budget of $220,000 a year. 

Competitive sports build character, said Kristin Glenchur, the school’s athletic director. 

Specifically: “It’s an organized competitive environment that puts kids in flight or fight situations where they make decisions on the spot,” she said. “A classroom doesn’t have that level of urgency and that whole body-mind thing that happens.” 



Photograph by Michael Howerton 

Two members of the Berkeley High field hockey team (in white) fight for the ball with a player from Marin Catholic during a recent match.