HENRICO COUNTY, Va. — Godwin High School head field hockey coach Emily McNamara has the team on the field each morning at 6:30. An early morning for most people, but for some teenagers’ schedules, it feels more like the middle of the night.
“Just being on time was an issue at the beginning. Now, they come 20 minutes early and they leave late,” Coach McNamara said. “We just raise the bar. It’s either you meet expectations or you fall off the tracks. We’ve lost some people in the last few years but for the most part, the majority has bought into everything we’ve thrown at them and I think that they see results.”
Last year, the result was Godwin’s first trip to the state tournament in school history.
A result the Eagles would love to improve upon this year.
“States was an amazing opportunity that Godwin field hockey hasn’t seen in like, ever in the program,” Godwin senior Julia Mann said. “I think us getting there and trying it out for the first time was amazing, and we all really want to go back.”
Mann has twice been voted first-team All-Region and was Godwin’s defensive player of the year.
Not bad for someone who started out as a dancer and found one consistent aspect of each pursuit.
“I would say listening,” she said. “You have to listen to the music in dance. Listening to each other on the field because field hockey is not a one-man sport. You have to work all together.”
Some kids have trouble listening due to a poor attitude or a short attention span.
Mann works extra hard at listening because she was born deaf and has worn cochlear implants for almost her entire life.
“I think the first time I noticed it, it fell out in the middle of practice and I had to go ask her what it was because she doesn’t come up and say, ‘Hey, I have a hearing disability,’ because she doesn’t let it affect her at all,” McNamara said.
That’s not to say Mann doesn’t take certain precautions. When it rains, she has to cover her head almost immediately to protect the electronics.
And because they have limitations, the team has developed hand symbols from the coaches to take the place of commands that were once shouted across the field.
“It’s little things adjusting like that with her that has made me a better person, more understanding that not everyone has the same abilities,” McNamara said. “If you can change things to make it work for everybody then you can see success.”
Mann’s success extends beyond her own team. She has volunteered with Special Olympics and this past summer worked at a camp for younger children with hearing impairments.
“Working with them was so fun,” Mann said. “I forget what I was like when I was young like that. So getting to go back and see them like, ‘Oh, you really are just like normal children with a little extra special thing with you.'”
Mann has been a team captain now for three years and continues to be an inspiration for opponents and teammates alike, something she does not take lightly.
“Just keeping yourself accountable, having your goals, and just keeping that respect and responsibility for everything,” she said.
“It doesn’t matter about any disability. It does not matter about your age. It’s the best leaders,” McNamara said. “She was by far the easiest one out of the field that I could tell people watch her and they want to be like her. She doesn’t have to say anything for that to be the truth.”
Mann will attend Converse University in South Carolina next year to play field hockey. She is considering studying deaf education to share what she’s learned with the next generation.
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