Val Wheeler is more than just a good player.
She’s one of the architects of the Franklin Towne Charter High School field hockey team.
Wheeler is a senior center midfielder for the Warriors, and she just started playing the sport freshman year. But sophomore year there was no season due to the pandemic, and when Franklin Towne opened practice last summer, only four girls showed up.
They got right to work, but at first, it wasn’t just working on their field hockey skills. They needed to find some teammates.
“We have great coaches, last year we really started with nothing and we built this team up by ourselves, pretty much,” said Wheeler, who lives in Port Richmond. “We learned a lot from our coaches, and we had to find girls to play. So we would text, post on Instagram and SnapChat, all social media. We just needed more girls. We said it might sound weird, but it’s a lot of fun.”
The numbers went from four to 20. This year, they’re at 22. And Wheeler is doing whatever she can to make sure she is helping the team, not only as a player but as a leader. And sometimes that means trying something new for the betterment of the team.
As a freshman, Wheeler, who is also a star ice hockey player where she plays defense, was the starting sweeper for Franklin Towne. While it was her first time playing the sport, she did have some familiarity with it because the position was similar to what she does on the ice.
But last year the Warriors had only four girls with field hockey experience, so coach Lindsay Klein moved Wheeler to center midfield to take advantage of her skill set. It’s a much more demanding position, physically, for Wheeler, but she adjusted very well, and last year she was First-Team All-Public.
“Last year I transitioned to center midfield,” Wheeler said. “It’s a lot of running, it’s like offense and defense combined. Our first year, we only had six freshmen, and only two of us came back after COVID. We lost a lot of girls. We only had four girls, so we had to explore other positions. We didn’t even know if we’d have a season.
“Last year we got to 20, but most girls were new. I tried midfield, I liked it, it’s very different but very fun. Everyone kind of had to find a place. It was hard because it’s a grueling position, constantly up and down the field. You have to play offense and defense, it’s tough. But I love it. I really wish I started sooner, it’s not so common in the city so I got a late start.”
Wheeler might be new to field hockey, but she’s been tearing it up on the ice for as long as she can remember. She started off playing with her brother in the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, but recently switched over to the Philadelphia Junior Flyers, where she’s a defenseman.
If things go well, she’ll play ice hockey in college, but she hasn’t closed the door on a field hockey career in college.
“Ice hockey influenced me to play field hockey because the skills translate with the stick at least, that definitely helps,” said Wheeler, who is also on the Warriors’ lacrosse team where she’s also a center midfielder. “It’s a lot more physical than field hockey. I grew up playing with boys, so I’m pretty physical when I play ice hockey.
“I play with girls now, and there’s no body checking. I liked the checking, I think it’s part of the game, I wish it was part of the girls game as much as the guys.”
She’s won against boys and she’s won with girls on the ice, but her goal is to turn the Warriors into a winning hockey team.
She credits Klein with laying the foundation, and she’s hoping she can be in the start of the story about how Franklin Towne became a top-flight field hockey program in the Public League.
“Our coach, she’s so great, she’s alumni, so she really cares about the team and the school, and she cares about the players,” Wheeler said. “I’m very happy with what we’ve done. We have had so much growth. Long term, it’s about the growth, it’s not about wins and losses. Franklin Towne is going to be a championship contender soon. I’ll be so proud when they do. As long as we get one, I’ll be happy.”
If the Warriors win a title in the next four years, they’ll do so while Wheeler is in college. She hopes to play sports while majoring in something that will keep her near the games she loves.
“I would love to pursue ice hockey and some career in, possibly athletic training so I can stay involved without actually playing,” Wheeler said. “I love sports. I can’t see not being involved in sports, somehow.”
Wheeler is always involved.
On top of her three sports and working at a pizza shop, she’s a member of the Towne Historical Society, the National Honor Society and this year, after serving as a mentor in the school’s leadership program, she’s part of the mentor council, where she helps in training the mentors.
“They just get the freshmen ready for everything, it’s a great program,” Wheeler said. “You just help get them situated and ready to go to school here. It helps them adjust to high school.”