By Bay Stephens EBS Editorial Assistant
BIG SKY – After moving in high school from Georgia back to Maine, where she’s originally from, Melissa Emery, 45, began playing field hockey.
She’s been at it ever since. The only difference is that now she represents the United States around the world.
Emery played in Canberra, Australia, last year at the 2016 field hockey Masters World Cup and was selected in September for the 2017-2018 U.S. Masters Field Hockey squad. She is one of 28 women who hope to make the final cut to compete in Terrassa, Spain, for the 2018 Master’s World Cup in July.
After both playing and coaching in college, Emery continued coaching pretty much until coming to Big Sky, she said. Her brother is the reason Emery and her partner Rick Symes are out here in the first place.
“I was on my way to Florida for vacation and [my brother] sent a message saying, ‘Hey, there’s this ski resort, Big Sky, in Montana,’” Emery said. Both she and Symes had never heard of it, but her brother told her she’d have no trouble getting a job.
At a rest stop on the way to Florida, Emery got in touch with the human resources department of a Big Sky business and sent her resume and information. By the time they reached their condo in Florida, the couple had a phone interview and jobs shortly thereafter.
“We kept saying, ‘Oh yeah, it’s seasonal, we’ll move home,’” Emery said. But it hasn’t happened. Year after year, they decided to stay for just one more. “Now we’re hitting 10, 11 years.” The past five years, the two have stayed year-round since Emery had Max, who is now in kindergarten and just learning to ski.
Both Emery and Symes work under chef and owner Warren “Bibber” Bibbins at Olive B’s Big Sky Bistro, which has been a huge part of the support Emery has received for her field hockey career. By the time she learned she’d made the master’s team for the 2016 World Cup, there were only four months for Emery to garner the funds to actually go.
But the community at Olive B’s as well as the wider Big Sky community rallied around Emery to send her to the other side of the world. Emery’s friend and coworker Anna Shipley started a GoFundMe page and hung up flyers at local business. All said and done, the push raised $1,600 and enough donated airline miles to cover Emery’s flight home.
“It’s pretty amazing, this community. It really is,” Emery said.
Already some regulars at Olive B’s have offered to support the travel that will hopefully pave her way to Spain.
The schedule ahead of Emery is packed with practices and tournaments all over the U.S. She’ll travel to Florida over Thanksgiving, spend time in Pennsylvania in early December, shoot over to Las Vegas at the end of December, and play a tournament in Phoenix in late January.
It’s all worth it for Emery, though. The thrill of the competition, along with the inclusivity and trustworthiness of the field hockey community, make for a sport that Emery has always loved.
“You could literally leave all your gear beside the field and walk away, and you know that it’s going to be there when you get back,” Emery said of the National Field Hockey Festival in Florida. “People look out for each other.”
At the World Cup in Spain, Emery doesn’t doubt that the stiffest competition will be against the Netherlands and Australia, both of which have professional field hockey leagues. The United States is at a disadvantage because players don’t get paid to play field hockey year-round and the fact that the country’s talent and athleticism is diluted between all the other U.S. sports, Emery says.
But that won’t change the heat the U.S. Field Hockey Master’s team will bring to the competition, especially if Emery is going.