The Stuart family that built the Urbana High School field hockey program from the ground up is going to continue being an integral part of the school for at least two more years.
You know the Stuarts, the one with the daughter, Molly, who is the all-time leading scorer in school history. Then there’s the other daughter, Meg, who is on pace to surpass that very record. Don’t forget the mother, A.J., the only field hockey coach in the school’s history.
Even the patriarch of the family, Stephen, is willing to make contributions to the program. He currently is installing the new scoreboard system that frequently will be lit up by his youngest daughter and even has gone as far to suggest he take up an assistant coaching role alongside his wife — “Lol,” A.J. responded in an email — because as any member of the family will tell you, Stephen Stuart considers himself a field hockey expert.
“He thinks he knows everything about the whole game,” Meg said with a laugh.
The rules he still may not recognize entirely — more than once, while his daughters were still in middle school, Stephen was kicked out of games for arguing calls from the sidelines — but his daughters also are the first to point to him as the fundamental reason they have become so successful.
A former football player at Idaho State University, Stephen lives and breathes through sport, even ones he may not fully understand. It never mattered how many goals Molly scored or how fast Meg ran or how many touchdowns his son, Thomas, threw for Calvert Hall, there always was something they could have done better, and there was scant hesitation in letting them know.
“He was always pushing us and always criticizing us after, and telling us what we could do better,” Molly said. “And that’s what made us tough.”
Even when Meg qualified for the Junior Olympics and won a national title in the 3,000 meters, Stephen asked why she didn’t break the record.
“He would say, ‘If you’re not first, you’re last,’” Meg said.
But if the Stuart children were looking for a soft and nurturing outlet after a particularly bad game, or even a good one, fleeing to mom hardly was the better option.
“There’s still always that expectation for me to be better,” Molly said. “So if we lost I‘d hear about it at home. Every time we did lose, I didn’t want to go home with my mother because it was more than disappointed in the team, she was disappointed in me.”
Of course, Molly would go on to graduate with a list of achievements so long no coach could be reasonably disappointed. In her four-year tenure at Urbana, she led the Hawks to their first-ever region final, became The Gazette Player of the Year, a perennial All-Conference and All-State name, as well as the school’s all-time leading scorer.
“I had no idea that Molly would receive all of the accolades that she did for field hockey,” A.J. said. “But I will say that she is one of the hardest-working student athletes that I have ever coached.”
There’s no way anybody could live up to that legacy, right? Wrong.
Meg hardly has the appearance of a hyper-gifted athlete primed to surpass Molly. She is, perhaps, the most ferocious competitor in the Stuart family.
Her first career hat-trick came two weeks ago in a game against Our Lady of Good Counsel and she punched in the game winner in overtime while she was recovering from a torn meniscus.
“It still hurts,” she said of her knee. “But sometimes you just gotta fight through the pain.”
A naturally gifted runner, Meg routinely was beating her father and brother in backyard races before she was in high school. She quickly surpassed her sister on the track, and before long Molly began seeking Meg out to learn how to run faster.
“She was telling me what to do,” Molly said. “She would push me in [track] and I would push her in field hockey.”
Molly no longer can physically push her sister as she is about 70 miles away at Shippensburg University, but Meg hardly is on her own. A piece of Molly still hangs back in Ijamsville that will push Meg more than Molly herself ever could: the Urbana scoring record.
“Molly asks me every game, ‘How many goals did Meg score?’ because she doesn't want Meg to break her record,” A.J. said.
The good news, Urbana, is that the year is 2012, and you won’t lose Meg until 2014. And even better news is that A.J. doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. So stay right here in the present, because it’s hard to imagine a field hockey program without a Stuart on the field.