Make a Move: Field hockey has driven Kevin Barber around the world

Phillip Downey/Senior Staff
Phillip Downey/Senior Staff
Phillip Downey/Senior Staff

Sitting in his 1987 Toyota Van overlooking the bay, Kevin Barber feels content. After all, this van is his home. Literally. And as far as places go, Berkeley is definitely one of the more friendly on Earth to be living in a van.

He bought the car a few months ago and spent a significant amount of time fixing it up before moving in. Because of the tight quarters, Kevin had to get rid of the majority of his possessions and simplify his lifestyle.

“It is nice ridding yourself of a lot of the weight that possessions bring. I feel more calm.”

He sleeps and eats a few meals here. For the most part, he makes himself food that needs minimal preparation such as bread and cereal, and sometimes he fills a cooler with produce and deli items.

But Kevin hasn’t totally escaped the grid. In fact, he does not actually spend that much time in the van. His living situation has forced him to spend more time in the library and cafes, and in order to shower, he can no longer avoid the gym.

“In a philosophy class, we talked a little bit about stoicism,” Kevin says. “It is nice ridding yourself of a lot of the weight that possessions bring. I feel more calm.”

The 26-year-old field hockey player decided to move into his van to avoid paying rent several months ago, not long after pressing pause on his field hockey career and deciding to attend UC Berkeley.

Phillip Downey/Senior Staff

Phillip Downey/Senior Staff

Last year, Kevin made the conscious decision to switch his focus to school after reaching a crossroads in his field hockey career. Pursuing a steady education at UC Berkeley was something that people like Kevin didn’t always have time for. Before making the switch, he played for the U.S. men’s national field hockey team, a huge time commitment with near constant traveling assured.

The aficionado grew up in the men’s field hockey hub of the United States: Ventura County, California. Kevin began playing at the age of 5 when a friend’s mom signed a small group of boys up. Starting then, he was hooked.

One of his first memories with the sport was playing in the California Cup, an annual field hockey tournament hosted at Moorpark College in Kevin’s hometown. Each year, a team from Taipei came to play. When he was 10 years old, there was a kid on the Taiwanese team also named Kevin; the two took photos together and signed each other’s jerseys. Kevin says that he still has the jersey somewhere back in Ventura County.

“Field hockey continued to be this cool opportunity to travel and meet people from far away,” Kevin says. “It just gives you instantly something in common.”

From then onward, Kevin decided to keep with the sport.

Field hockey is extremely popular for girls on the East Coast and is growing out west, but the stigma of field hockey just being a girl’s sport has held it back from gaining popularity among men.

“I think field hockey doesn’t necessarily get the popularity in a lot of parts of the country because it is not a college sport,” says Cal assistant coach Malachi Mahan. “(Kids) don’t get to grow up and see their older brothers play in high school or see their heroes play it on TV.”

Furthermore, because the sport requires a certain type of field and unique equipment, it usually stays more localized than a sport like soccer, which can be played almost anywhere, with anything. In fact, Moorpark constitutes one of the only places in the country where a group of boys plays consistently and, consequently, has become the epicenter of the men’s national team.

Kevin continued to play with a club team in Moorpark, and because of his exposure to national team coaches and players, he was able to get involved at a higher level at an early age. He had his first experience representing the United States when he traveled to The Netherlands in seventh grade with the U16 national team.

Shortly thereafter, at the age of 16, Kevin decided he didn’t want to go to high school anymore. While many parents would not take this kind of assertion seriously, Kevin was not joking. He researched and found the California High School Proficiency Examination, or CHSPE, which could be taken after two years of high school. It took a little convincing of his parents and a dinner with Nick Conway, his current field hockey coach, but Kevin had soon passed out of high school. He then moved to Chula Vista, San Diego, the site of the field hockey Olympic Training Center, to help the U.S. women’s national team train for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, while he lived in an apartment with a few other teammates.

“Field hockey continued to be this cool opportunity to travel and meet people from far away.”

“It was like my freshman year of college a couple years early. It was definitely growing up quickly in that way,” Kevin says. “I was playing field hockey a couple times a day and then going to a couple community college classes.”

Right around that time, Kevin started playing for the U21 national team and traveled all around the world. At age 19, he moved to Perth, Australia, to play in a club league there and then played for a club in Brussels the following year. In 2007, he started playing for the men’s national team and had the opportunity to play in the Pan American games. In total, he has visited more than 20 countries to play.

While not as big in the United States, field hockey is actually a top group sport played globally. This is why players, especially from the U.S. where the cohort of male players is smaller, travel around the world to pursue their interest.

“This game is all over the world,” says Cal head coach Shellie Onstead. “I have been everywhere from Russia to Asia to Europe to South America, and the fact that we can use it to connect across the world in random ways is something I really value about the experience in the sport. I am glad he has experienced the same sort of thing and has the same appreciation.”

In an effort to spread his appreciation for the sport, Kevin himself started a field hockey club in Chula Vista. He worked as a collaborative P.E. teacher at five local elementary schools, teaching boys and girls alike the basics of the sport. At the end of the program, they would all get the chance to go to the Olympic Training Center and compete against each other. This was meant to encourage more children to join club teams and pursue the sport outside the school gym.

Toward the end of this project and after almost 10 years of hopping around and taking classes at different community colleges or online, Kevin was finally ready to pursue a more traditional educational track. He transferred credit from more than five different colleges, when he applied to UC Berkeley as a junior transfer.

Phillip Downey/Senior Staff

Phillip Downey/Senior Staff

“There are opportunity costs, and you have to make one decision over another,” Kevin says. “Coming here has meant that I have been completely focused on school.”

Onstead has known Kevin since she coached the U16 team in Chula Vista, and though she never directly trained him, the field hockey world is so small that everyone around the Olympic Training Center got to know each other. Onstead has witnessed Kevin grow as a player and travel the world since he was 16 and was excited to have acquired a male practice player.

As a practice player, Kevin attends a few women’s field hockey practices a week to elevate the intensity of scrimmages and also makes it out to most home games. Last year, this was harder to do because practices and games were all off-site. But since the creation of the Underhill turf, Kevin has been more involved with the women’s team this year.

“He is very passionate about the game … also a little quirky,” Onstead says. “I am not quite sure how to define that but sometimes he just makes me laugh, and he is so persevering. He is just going to find a way to get things done.”

Graduating in December, Kevin is an integrated biology major and pre-med. Eventually he plans to take the MCAT and apply to med school with the dream of practicing medicine in Central America, but at this moment, he is in no rush.

A house on wheels also gives a lot of possibility for adventure. Soon after he fixed the van, Kevin and his friends road tripped down to Mexico to surf. After his graduation in December, Kevin fantasizes about driving all the way down to Costa Rica to spend a few months.

“If I could travel like I have for field hockey but for an even more positive cause and bring a needed skill, that would be the ultimate dream to combine the two,” Kevin says. “How everything has worked out now has just been seeing what door opens up and going through it.”

Lucy Schaefer covers field hockey. Contact her at [email protected]