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SPORT SLOW TO CATCH ON.

Byline: Jill Painter Staff Writer

There might not be much outrage that the U.S. men's field hockey team didn't qualify for the Olympics. After all, this isn't baseball or soccer.

But that doesn't matter to U.S. national coach Shiv Jagday, who is on a personal crusade to make the U.S. competitive on the international scene. A future Olympic berth is his hope.

Jagday knows what top-notch field hockey is like after growing up in India, where field hockey is king. He coached the Canadian team to several upsets of powerhouses and an Olympic berth in 1984. He's trying to build a solid program in the U.S. and nearly starting from scratch.

``We are competing and we're a very good team,'' Jagday said. ``We're getting better and better. But you need experience at (the international) level.''

Jagday lives in Simi Valley, not far from where the country's top field hockey players train at Moorpark College. The school has a top-notch field hockey complex and interest is growing, just not as fast as the sport's stars would like.

``As far as the men, it's still a young sport,'' said Rinku Bhamber, a Royal High of Simi Valley product. ``It hasn't taken off. It's about like how soccer used to be 20 years ago. Before the '94 World Cup, soccer wasn't big here.

``Basically, we need some bit of success and we also need support.''

Jagday believes playing against premier international competition is key. But his main goal is to help the sport attract more players. Only about 1,000 men play the sport in the U.S., compared to 160,000 women. Colleges feature women's programs but not men's.

``As they say, quantity produces quality,'' Jagday said. ``You have to have the numbers. You have to have healthy players for competition. We need more players and a broader base. We need more options and we're working on it.

``We all promote, but we have an uphill battle. It's not a high-profile sport. We want to make people aware. This is the second-most popular team sport.''

Attracting field hockey players isn't easy, as Shawn Hindy knows. Hindy is 28 and still plays the sport, although by the next Olympics, he likely wouldn't be on the team.

Hindy, who prepped at Westlake High, wants to help train younger field hockey players. He played abroad in Spain and knows the U.S. has a lot of work to do before it can even foster Olympic hopes.

``We're pretty far away (from the Olympics),'' Hindy said. ``For the men, it's hard. There's a lot of other sports guys are distracted with. I think our long-range goal is 2012. You just have to win one tournament.

``Argentina is really strong and we need to beat them. But what we need to do is develop kids and get more kids here.''

Jill Painter, (818) 713-3615

jill.painter(at)dailynews.com

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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 8, 2004
Words:492
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Next Article:IN THE CROSSHAIRS U.S. TEAM FEATURES SHOOTERS RANGING IN AGE FROM 17 TO 52.


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