After nearly 12 years of constant use, the synthetic turf at William & Mary’s Busch Field — home to the university’s nationally recognized field hockey team — will see a significant upgrade with the installation of a brand-new AstroTurf system this spring. The field soon will have a fresh look and feel, thanks to a $2-million gift from a donor who wishes to remain anonymous. 

Including this gift, nearly $40 million has been raised as of Feb. 1 toward the $55-million All In campaign for W&M Athletics.

“Our All In campaign fuels William & Mary’s Athletics programs at a critical time. We are grateful for such a generous gift, that will ensure our talented field hockey athletes can train and compete at the highest levels,” W&M President Katherine Rowe said. 

Along with the overall fundraising goal, William & Mary’s All In campaign is focused on engaging and building community and increasing annual giving to all of the university’s 23 NCAA Division I varsity teams. The upcoming All In Weekend on Feb. 24-26 will celebrate donors’ generosity benefiting W&M Athletics and map out plans to propel the campaign toward successful completion.

A person runs down a field with a field hockey stick
Midfielder/forward Lauren Curran ’23 advances the ball during a fall season game against the University of Richmond, with midfielder Maddie McGaughey ’24 close by. (Photo by Jim Agnew)

Busch Field and the adjacent Tribe Field Hockey Center are part of what will be the new W&M Athletics Complex, also encompassing a renovated Kaplan Arena, a new Sports Performance Center and the Mackesy Tennis Center.

“For our talented student-athletes to reach their full potential, we need to make sure they have access to facilities, equipment and resources that are on par with their academic experience,” said Director of Athletics Brian Mann. “We are humbled by our donor’s generosity.”

Noting that W&M Field Hockey had a historic run this past fall, spending six straight weeks in the national rankings and posting three victories over top-20 rivals, Mann said, “This gift lays the groundwork for many more successful seasons.”

The donor said the gift recognizes the dedication of athletics staff such as Tess Ellis, head coach for W&M Field Hockey, who earn students’ respect and loyalty by helping them thrive on and off the field. Head coach since 2013, Ellis has spent 27 seasons with the Tribe and has been honored as Colonial Athletic Association Coach of the Year four times.

“Tess isn’t only coaching students to be great in field hockey, she’s coaching them to be great in life,” the donor said. “I’m just trying to help the university out in any way I can.”

Among the field hockey team’s recent achievements, 11 members were named to the 2022 National Field Hockey Coaches Association Division I National Academic Squad, the organization announced on Feb. 9. The program honors student-athletes who have achieved a cumulative grade-point average of 3.5 or higher through the first semester of the current academic year.

The new turf that will be installed at Busch Field starting in May will reduce the risk of injuries that can occur while practicing on worn-down turf. It will also help in recruiting and retaining athletes, Ellis said.

Tess Ellis, head coach for W&M Field Hockey

In addition to replacing the turf, the gift offers a cushion for other expenses that may arise when the old turf is removed, such as repairing holes in the field. Ellis said she anticipates that there will be enough funds left to make other enhancements to the field hockey complex as well. Those might include extending the fence that’s in front of the Tribe Field Hockey Center to better protect spectators from stray balls, and adding a gate so that the team can go straight from the building onto the field.

Completed in 2019 as part of William & Mary’s commemoration of 100 years of coeducation and women’s athletics, the Tribe Field Hockey Center was made possible by $2.4 million in commitments from lead donors including Cathy Bessant P ’18, John Clay P ’18, Kelly Donahue P ’18, P ’21 and Chris Donahue P ’18, P ’21, Maryellen Farmer Feeley ’85, Ed Feeley M.B.A ’85, Tracy Leinbach ’81 and the late Millie West HON ’91, L.H.D. ’17.

The new gift benefits not just the field hockey team, but many others on and around campus, Ellis said. With the assurance of replacement turf on the horizon before the fall field hockey season, the field is back to full use. Beginning this week, the field hockey team returns to its usual practice routine in preparation for its nontraditional season, including scrimmage days at Busch Field with James Madison University on March 25 and Duke University on April 3.

William & Mary’s ROTC unit holds training there early in the day, the field hockey team practices from 3:30 to 6 p.m., and in the evenings and on weekends, recreational sports groups hold events. At other times it’s open for general student use or rented by local schools.

“The field is typically used from 5:30 in the morning until 1 a.m.,” Ellis said. “It’s our lifeline, but it’s also a lifeline for recreational sports.”