When Jenna and Kelly Freitas created the Playing for a Purpose field hockey jamboree as seniors at Manchester Memorial High School in 2011, they never imagined the event would be where it is today. What began as a way for the twin sisters to support their mom and others diagnosed with cancer has become a staple preseason event in the NHIAA field hockey community.
Now in its ninth year, schools across all three divisions will participate in the Playing for a Purpose jamboree at Memorial’s Chabot-McDonough Field on Saturday, Aug. 31, beginning at 8:30 a.m.
Memorial will be joined by Division I programs Bedford, Dover, Londonderry, Manchester Central, Nashua North and Nashua South; Bow, John Stark of Weare, Pelham and Souhegan of Amherst from Division II; and Lebanon, Hopkinton, Newport and White Mountains of Whitefield from Division III. Instead of wearing their traditional high school uniforms, each team will wear jerseys customized with a color representing a type of cancer.
Funds raised from the jamboree benefit Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center, where Jenna and Kelly’s mom, Christine, was first diagnosed with melanoma in 2002. The event has raised more than $75,000 in its first eight years.
“Nine years ago, when we first came up with this idea, I don’t think we ever imagined we’d still be doing this — still going back for preseason at our high school and doing this event,” Kelly said. “I love it. It’s one of my favorite days of the year.”
Christine, who has been cancer-free since having surgery to remove a brain tumor in 2011, said the event is about raising money but also awareness, especially for the high school players.
“My goal is to continue to raise funds — I truly believe it will make a difference in patient support and research — but also awareness for the girls, open their eyes, make them more conscientious about things like being in the sun,” said Christine, who is a Friends of Norris Cotton Cancer Center board member.
Christine learned she needed surgery to remove the brain tumor five days before the inaugural Playing for a Purpose jamboree, but that did not stop her from attending the event. She postponed her surgery so she could be part of the jamboree her daughters worked so hard to create.
“They wanted to do surgery and I was like, ‘Whoa, I have someplace I need to be,’” Christine said.
While Jenna and Kelly were in college at UMass Lowell, where they played for the school’s field hockey team, Christine took the lead on coordinating the jamboree. The twin sisters graduated from UMass Lowell in 2016 and both now coach in the Granite State Elite club field hockey program.
“I’m so glad she took this under her wing and she gets so excited to do it every year, too,” Kelly said. “When we had the idea originally, we were like, ‘We want to do this for our mom. This is our reason.’ Now it really is for her.”
The jamboree typically has three seven-on-seven scrimmages going simultaneously, and also has other events like skills competitions and best uniform and educational poster contests throughout the day. The winning team in each scrimmage or event earns points, and whichever has the most by the end of the jamboree is the overall winner.
“That’s one thing my sister and I really wanted to do — find ways to make this a unique jamboree and not like every other field hockey tournament,” Jenna said. “Everyone has an equal opportunity to earn points for their team and compete to win the tournament.”
The festivities are paused at noon for a ceremony in which the players hold hands and read from a list of people for whom they are playing — those who survived, lost or are currently fighting their battle with cancer. Kelly said the jamboree added the ceremony in its second or third year and it has become Christine’s favorite part of the event.
“I think that everybody has somebody that has been touched by cancer,” Kelly said. “To be able to say it was really the moment that made it real, made it feel like we’re all together and we’re fighting for something greater than us. A lot of hope comes from that moment, too.”
The jamboree presents a great preseason bonding opportunity for teams, Kelly said, and Jenna said she has seen teams across divisions build friendships at the event.
“Having those bonds with other schools through the season makes the event special,” Jenna said. “Teams that meet at the jamboree will go to the championship game for the others even though they’re not in that division.”
Christine has seen seniors get emotional when they realize it will be their last time participating in the jamboree as a player. Some of them, including the Freitas sisters’ former Memorial teammates, stay involved with the event by volunteering after their playing days are over. Christine said coaches seek her and her family out throughout the jamboree to thank them for holding the event.
“It means so much to each player, coach, even the officials that come that day,” Christine said. “It means something to everyone. It may be something different but it all comes together and unites us all in one way or another.”