You are here
A simple request launched a long-standing tradition 18 years ago.
Ashleigh Weathers was a freshman at Lake Forest High School in 2000, then known as Ashleigh Palmer, and a member of the field hockey team. Weathers’ teammate at the time, Peggy Bauer, asked her if her mother would braid the team’s hair into cornrows prior to playoffs as a sort of team bonding experience.
Weathers asked her mother, Edie Palmer, who agreed and invited the team into her Lake Bluff home.
The team won its first state championship in eight years that season, and not wanting to jinx anything the following season, the team asked Weathers and Palmer to braid their hair again. They won another state championship that year and the tradition carried on since its inception.
Lake Forest’s field hockey has won 11 of the last 18 state championships, but the tradition goes beyond titles.
“This was not something that was intended to be a tradition,” Weathers said. “It was a one time thing and then all of a sudden, you know, more than 15 years later here we are.”
The first year after Weathers graduated, and was off at college, was the only year Palmer wasn’t sure the team would call to have their hair braided.
In the fall of 2004, with Weathers away at her first year of college, Palmer got the call. After that point, Palmer made it a point to set aside that weekend for the Scouts field hockey team.
For the Palmer family, especially for Edie, the tradition has always been a way to invite a small part of the community into their home, Weathers said.
Once Weathers moved back to the area after college, she became a permanent member of the tradition.
“After a few years, it became something that my mom and I just really looked forward to,” she said.
Even second-year coach Cat Catanzaro could tell the significance of the tradition when she entered the program.
“It’s something to unify them before they go into battle,” Catanzaro said. “It’s something where we’re going to do this, we’re going to be together. We’re going to go fight together. This is something they can do just to be more committed to the same idea.”
Catanzaro has seen the excitement the girls have for the yearly event.
“Last year, the people that had never done it before were very excited,” she said. “They’d seen it and they wanted to be part of it because it’s been such a long standing tradition. It’s almost like a badge of honor; you’ve earned your right to be a part of this tradition, a part of this family.”
The tradition will continue as scheduled this year, but with Weathers at the helm. Palmer died Dec. 3, 2017, and the loss will be felt this season not only by her daughter but by the field hockey team, especially with playoffs looming around the corner.
Weathers knows continuing the tradition is what her mother would have wanted, and she’s happy to continue that.
“I think I’m preparing myself,” Weathers said. “I think come the second day, at night, when I’m tired and my hands are hurting I think I’m just going to be overwhelmed.”
The braiding process takes roughly a weekend to complete. It takes 45 minutes to braid one girls hair and will be repeated 20 times for each member of the team. Weathers has become increasingly more involved in the braiding over the last several years because of her mother’s declining health.
But, this will be the first year Weathers will complete all 20 braids without the help of her mother.
“I’m doing it by myself and I wish my mom was there,” she said. “I’ve thought about that, but I think it will be coupled with a lot of joy. She told me, a year or two ago, she was prepping me. She said, ‘You’re going to take this over. You can handle it.’”
Now senior and freshman players alike are excited to get their hair braided.
Madden Plante is a three-year varsity player and remembers walking into school as a sophomore with her cornrows. She did get some odd looks from students, but now it’s something she looks forward to come playoff time.
“I think it’s a really cool tradition for us to do,” Plante said. “It makes us really cohesive during playoffs.”
Freshman goal keeper Heidi Richardson remembers watching the 2017 state championship game last year, and seeing their braids. This year as a member of the team, she’s looking forward to being a part of that tradition.
“I think it’s a really cool tradition to bring our team together,” she said. “It is just something that we all have together that brings us all together in a way.”
Weathers loves seeing the excitement the girls have for the cornrows every year and it gives the Palmer family the chance to see the players grow up over the years.
“It has meant a lot to my family just to see the girls grow up over the years and just kind of keep our connection with Lake Forest High School,” Weathers said. “The girls mean as much to us as this tradition means to them.
“It would be my honor to keep the tradition alive.”