A walk in the snow with Central Penn Field Hockey’s U-14 National A Team

As snow swept across central Pennsylvania on January 6, the most unbelievable scenario emerged for a youth field hockey team.


Dozens of vehicles were traveling on U.S. Route 322 West, when two pairs of crashes forced traffic to shut down the highway for about four hours, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.


The team was headed to State College. The Nittany Center was hosting a National Indoor Qualifier for USA Field Hockey’s National Indoor Tournament.


“Four players from our team were just ahead of the crash on 322,” Central Penn Field Hockey Club owner Belinda Heltzel said. “They made it to State College with three hours to spare. They gave themselves five to six hours to arrive, what would normally be a two-hour drive without the snow.”


The rest of the team wasn’t so lucky, but they were very fortunate. Several of the athletes were right behind the initial crash. There were no injuries reported in either incident.


“Everyone started texting everyone on the team,” Belinda said. “That’s when we realized four of our athletes were there. And, everyone else was trapped on the highway.”


Belinda’s daughter, Kelsey, coaches the U-14 National A Team. The squad was playing up a bracket, competing against U-16 athletes. Kelsey and her boyfriend were farther east on 322 West and got stuck in the aftermath of the second crash.


During the two hours the athletes were stuck in their vehicles, they kept their energy up. They texted and brainstormed how they would try to get to the center to connect with their teammates.


“Our team needed us,” goalie Averie Reed said. “We play field hockey year-round and train hard for this. From traveling to different states, our parents travel with us and support us. Quitting was not an option. Our team needed us, not making it was not an option. We were determined to qualify.”


Along with the four athletes who were already at State College was one of Belinda’s former field hockey coaches. Belinda contacted USA Field Hockey to ask if she could fill in for Kelsey.


“USA said the parent could check the team in but could only coach if her clearances were in the USA portal and she had an active and valid membership,” Belinda said. “We looked it up, and by some miracle, her coaching credentials were up to date and in the system. She was able to go on the court with those four players.”


The girls rallied and jumped on the court. They were short one player and a goalie. Indoor field hockey is played with six players on each side including a goalie.


While the athletes took the court, traffic started to move on 322. Parents and athletes were motivated to get their girls there by 4 p.m. at the latest.


“When they got about a mile away, ¾ of a mile, the road into the facility had just shut down,” Belinda said. “And this was right at 4. The girls were thinking they were going to run right in.”


Instead, wearing shorts and uniform tops, they got out of their cars to walk in the snow. A few of the dads who were at State College had a pickup truck. They weaved around a neighborhood and picked up the girls for the final quarter mile trek.


When the rest of the team plowed into the center, their team had just had a penalty stroke called against them. CP’s goalie wasn’t suited up, but according to indoor rules, she could put on a defensive corner mask and try to stop the point from being scored.


She stopped the goal. The halftime score favored Central Penn’s opponent 3-1.


“We scored two goals within the last three minutes of the game,” Belinda said. “We were tied 3-3, as other players started to roll onto the court.”


CP went on to win the next two. They placed second in their pool and won their crossover game. They qualified for the U-16 National Indoor Tournament set to take place at Spooky Nook the first weekend in March.


“[Our team] had the choice to forfeit, but refused because we came [to State College] to qualify,” Reed said. She later added, “our team needed us.”


“We made lemonade out of oranges,” Reed said.


Anna Keim also jumped out of her parents’ car to try to run in the snow. Her mom, Stephanie, said after sitting in the car for two hours, “we started to panic that we wouldn’t make it in time.”


“Anna just wanted to get there to play and to qualify,” Stephanie said.


Her daughter just kept saying, “I need to get there.”


“The girls ran up a half mile snow covered hill together to try to get to their teammates to help them finish the first game,” Stephanie said. “Other dads met them at the top of the hill and drove them the rest of the way. Running into the facility only missing two minutes of the game. It was definitely something to remember. Determination … that’s the only word to describe this. All for the love of their teammates.”


It ended up “being the best day,” Reed said.


“Our club owner Belinda as well as our parents do a great job of encouraging positivity in anything we do,” she said. “At any time, something can go wrong, and we have to adapt, just like the game of field hockey. We love this sport and spend so much time together. The only thing we thought was our team needed us. We needed to get there, and we did.”


Photo: Stephanie Keim 

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