When you think of field hockey at William & Mary, you can’t help but think of Peel Hawthorne ’80.
One of the most successful coaches in the history of Division I field hockey, Hawthorne ranks high among active and all-time coaches in victories, games coached and tenure. Including her four years as a player from 1976 through 1979, Hawthorne has participated in nearly 80 percent of W&M field hockey’s winning games since the program’s inception in 1973.
Now the Tribe’s associate athletics director for student services and senior woman administrator, Hawthorne serves as a role model for all of the College’s student-athletes. “To me, Peel is Tribe Athletics,” said field hockey player Cate Johnson ’15. “Dedication, hard work, genuine character with a commitment to excellence: she is the embodiment of what the athletes here strive to be.”
Hawthorne likes to say that as a student at the College, her favorite sport to play was whatever was in season. A lacrosse and field hockey player, Hawthornehelped the College’s field hockey program make two trips to the AIAW Nationals. After graduating fromWilliam & Mary, Hawthorne went on to coach at Connecticut College for four seasons before returning to the College in 1987, where she led William & Mary to the NCAA Tournament in 2000 and 2002.
Voted CAA Coach of the Year in 1995 and 2001, Hawthorne won the award for a third time in 2004 while also earning her first state coach of the year honor after leading the Tribe to a 7-0 CAA record. It was the first time in school history that W&M had gone undefeated in conference play. Hawthorne’s 275 victories at the College rank her as the winningest coach in school history, and her 306 career victories make her the 13th coach in Division I to surpass 300 wins.
While the victories may be sweet, Hawthorne’s role as mentor has been the best part of her career. Over the years, she has helped guide 36 players to a total of 54 all-region honors and has coached seven All-Americans.
For Cate Johnson, Hawthorne is the reason she came to William & Mary. “Peel took a chance with me,” she said. “I was very late to the recruiting game, and my skills were not really up to D1 level. She must have seen something that no one else did, and for some reason she offered me a spot on the team as a walk-on, and has been one of my biggest champions since. Peel made my experience here possible, and I would not be the person I am today without her guidance and mentorship.”
Johnson’s favorite memories are of team bonding at Hawthorne’s river house and on the bus to and from games. Hawthorne even organized an Easter egg hunt for the team every spring. “I honestly think of her as the best coach I ever had,” Johnson said. “When she transferred to administration, selfishly I was sad to lose out on another season of playing for her, but happy that her talents could now affect a wider circle of athletes.”
In her administrative role, Hawthorne works with student-athletes and coaches to ensure a quality experience at the College. Among other things, she manages compliance and educational support, enforcing policy and offering guidance and resources to student-athletes to help them excel in W&M’s tough classes.
She operates on a different kind of team now, but her coaching experience translates well into her new work. “Having that experience is critical to this position because you need empathy and an understanding of what a particular student or coach is going through,” said Hawthorne. “The job switch is just applying an old skill set to new problems.”
In her role as senior woman administrator, Hawthorne is helping to highlight the significance of women in sports. She plays a major role in organizing the College’s annual Celebration of Women in Athletics (CWA), held during Charter Day Weekend. Now in its sixth year, the event brings together female athletes and coaches to celebrate shared successes on and off the field, and to honor women whose experience in intercollegiate athletics has shaped their personal, professional and civic lives.
The 2015 CWA event will include a networking session for alumnae, current female student-athletes and Tribe supporters. “The mentally strenuous public ivy education the College offers, combined with the often physically challenging collegiate athletic experience, is one of the toughest crucibles out there,” Hawthorne said. Through shared interest and common experience in sports, W&M female student-athletes can build a powerful community of support for women in the Tribe family, she explained.
Hawthorne’s many skills extend far beyond athletics and administration. She has a pilot’s license, and also plays guitar and sings in a local band. She once taught Cate Johnson to Travis-pick on the guitar on an away trip. “I feel like she’s done everything, but you’d never know because she’s so humble,” Johnson said. “She’s full of hidden talents.”