BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – I’ve been looking back to when I was an elementary school classroom teacher and a cheerful young lady was sitting in my classroom performing at a high level, dotting every “i” and crossing every “t.” Little did I know that one day, when this student grew up, she would take her aim for perfection to the athletic arena as a coach and become one of the most successful leaders in Vermont High School field hockey history.
Bethany Yates, well, actually Coursen, has taken perfection to an extremely high level. Those who worked with and for her as a coach or in an educational setting, rave about her organization and her attention to detail. She obviously is still dotting and crossing those letters on her way to success.
The word perfection was noted in the paragraph above and part of Coursen’s still being written legacy is wrapped up in the fact her Terriers are presently working on the possibility of the program’s sixth perfect regular season in the past eight years. And remember this is taking place at a school which competes at the Division III level in the majority of its sports, whereas field hockey competes in Division I.
Back on Oct. 1, Coursen’s team presented the longtime coach with her 200th victory with an 8-0 domination of the Rutland Ravens. Coursen knew it was win number 200, but she felt it was only information the inner circle knew. Well someone in that inner circle has loose lips and on that Oct. 1 afternoon the celebration actively began.
“I was very emotional about my 200th win,” Coursen told us, “but, I didn’t want to make a big deal of it. It isn’t about me; it is about the team. I was very surprised that the school and my team knew. I had told very few people.”
Balloons and other celebratory items surfaced as soon as the game was over, as well as a framed 200th win certificate and then the team appeared with their coach with more recognition at halftime of that evening’s football game at Hadley Field.
Beyond the perfect seasons are the building of the program and the state championships. Once upon a time, the program only had 12 players for an entire season. The same number of 12 had graduated following the 2009 season with the consequential small numbers remaining almost shutting the program down for a season. However, Coursen already had her youth program in full motion to provide numbers and year by year bring the number of participants to more than the necessary number.
“I had started the feeder program in 2004 because my daughter and her friends didn’t enjoy soccer and wanted to play field hockey. They were my first team,” Coursen told the Eagle Times. The youth offering became popular “and the program grew from there with the high school players becoming the coaches and that was the key part to help make our small little school so successful.”
Another key was that Coursen’s daughter, Kya, had basically grown up at the field hockey field because her mother had coached for years. She was the Junior Varsity coach before taking the varsity reins. Kya sold her mother’s love of field hockey to her friends and it grew from there.
Coach Coursen wants to make sure everyone realized the high school players coaching the youth was such a crucial ingredient in the mix. She says, “When a player gets to be a coach while still playing the sport they understand what it takes to work hard and win from both sides as a player and coach. Plus young girls start to play early and watch their coaches play!”
Coursen went on to tell us, “I wasn’t a superstar in field hockey, but I have always loved the sport. I played softball in college (Wentworth Institute of Technology) because the school chose not to have a field hockey team.”
Despite the love of the sport, Coursen was on the sidelines and away from the field until a neighbor, Rhonda Croney, was playing in the program and told Bethany they were looking for a JV Coach. Coursen put in her time in that position for five years and then decided “It was time for a change. I felt I should focus on my kids and their sports.”
And then, almost immediately the varsity position opened up and Chris Hodsden, serving as both Assistant Principal and Athletic Director at the same time, approached the retiring JV coach and said how about you coaching the varsity for one year?
Coursen was flattered.
But she had just decided to use her time in a different way and it wasn’t an automatic “I will do it.”
“I offered if no one wanted to, I would help out.”
No one seemed to want to and she committed for one year. One year which has basically become two decades.
The Terriers enjoyed a week off following the 200th win and since defeated Otter Valley 5-2, Hartford 2-1, and Woodstock 3-1 to bring the total number of wins to 203. This week in particular has been a real challenge for the team, which now stands at 12-0 and is aiming for that sixth perfect regular season in the eight-year period. Hartford is at the top of the Division II standings and both the Otters and Wasps also are strong title contenders in that division. Games are getting closer for Bellows Falls recently and Coursen tells us, “I think it is great that the south has some strong teams.”
Two hundred victories are one thing, but the post-season success and state championships are what everyone is always chasing. That’s actually where Coursen measures up best.
In the past 19 years, Coursen’s teams have advanced to at least the semifinals 14 times and have appeared in eight title games, including six in a row at this point winning five of those championships, including two of the past three Division I titles. Bellows Falls has won titles in all three of the state divisions in her career.
The Terrier field hockey team is playing the role of The Little Engine That Could. This little school of about 300 students is presently competing with and defeating schools with enrollments of between 900 and 1,300 students. Coursen and the Terriers are still celebrating that big 200th win, but this story is really so much bigger than that.
Let’s give a standing ovation to accomplishments that are truly special for this small school program.
Bill Murphy is a sports columnist for the Eagle Times