Stepping down after 50 years, Notre Dame field hockey coach leaves legacy of support on, off field

By Rich Fisher | Contributing Editor

Barb Major, center, Notre Dame High School field hockey coach, takes a photo with the team after a game against Rancocas on the Lawrenceville field. The October game was Major’s last with home turf advance, as she is stepping down after 50 years. Hal Brown photos

If there was a thesaurus entry for “Barb Major,” it would consist of about 50 positive synonyms – one for every year she coached. In discussing Major with those who worked with or played for her, one cannot help but be struck by the amount of accolades her admirers throw out.

It is why a special luncheon was held Dec. 8 to honor Major for her 50 years as head coach of the Notre Dame High School varsity field hockey team. Let that sink in for a moment – a half-century of coaching the same sport at the same school.

“I’m surprised I lasted 50 years, thanks to the man above, and time does fly,” said the modest icon. “I am pleased I was given the opportunity to have met and coached some awesome women. Field hockey has given me many friendships and memories.”

And Major, who is stepping down, has given them right back to so many others. Here’s just a sampling from her co-workers:

Vince Ardery, the athletic director who hired Major in 1968: “The kids loved and respected her then and for all these years. She is a tough competitor and also very caring. She started the field hockey program from scratch and did all the necessary work to build a successful program. She’s a person that does everything the right way, and her expectations are high of her players and her school administrators. She was a pleasure to work with.”

John McKenna, the Lawrenceville school’s strength and conditioning coach and former assistant athletic director, whose daughter Lindsey played for Major: “She’s like a second mother to all of us. She’s just a good, honest person, and she’s loyal to a fault. She really cares.”

Rich Roche, the school’s current athletic director who took over for Major nine years ago: “She is classy, organized. The kids love her. She’s a taskmaster. She doesn’t let anybody slide, and she’s always on top of things. She inspires loyalty in the kids. If you can do that over the course of 50 years, you’re more than just a coach.”

Cheryl Harris, former freshman coach and varsity assistant since 2014: “Barb is a phenomenal boss and mentor, and I have so much respect for all that she does with the girls and all she has accomplished at Notre Dame. I have learned some great coaching techniques as well as shared some amazing memories. I feel very blessed to have been a part of her staff. She is the true definition of a master teacher. Not only did she teach the girls field hockey, she taught them how to overcome adversity and how to treat your teammates like sisters.”

Major is a lifelong Mercer County resident, and Ardery recalled her being “an exceptional athlete at Trenton High and Trenton State (now The College of New Jersey).” She has had various positions at Notre Dame but will always be thought of as the field hockey coach, first and foremost.”

Roche’s records date back to 1984, and during those past 34 years, Major’s teams won 15 Colonial Valley Conference division titles (the last coming in 2017), the 1992 Mercer County Tournament championship, and sectional championships in 1985 and 1987.

Those are just numbers. With Major, it is about so much more. It’s about the human element.

“If she has a chance to teach them [the players] a life lesson, she is proud to do it,” Harris said. “These girls are her family. She will miss them more than anything.”

Players from over the decades had warms words for Major as well.

Anne Bradley (varsity defender from 1978-80): “She pushed us to be our best, but she was fair and gracious. Workouts were challenging. We had to run three miles before practice even began. But Mrs. Major was creative, and the drills really helped us up our game. We always wanted to win for Mrs. Major and to make her proud, but either way, she was unconditional in support for her team. She was, by far, my favorite coach ever.”

Lindsey (McKenna) Diamond (varsity player 1999-2000, Notre Dame Female Athlete of Year in 2001): “She has changed my life in so many ways. We called her Mama Major for a reason. She was the most caring and compassionate person I have ever met. But when she flipped her switch, she was all business. She pushed you outside your comfort zone and made you a better player every day. She was the person at Notre Dame you were afraid to disappoint on and off the field because you looked up to her so much.”

Flannery O’Donnell (varsity goalie, 2015-16): “Maj considered her players to be family, and I think that is why she lasted so long as a coach. She really taught me how much field hockey mimics life. Things don’t always go your way in a game, like in life, but the way you approach each situation and your attitude can have a huge impact on the outcome. I think playing field hockey for Maj allowed all of us to grow as players, and also as individuals.”

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