The pitch for girls’ field hockey is to try to create a level playing field.
That is the mission of the Field Hockey Coalition, which has successfully proposed to the MIAA, through the MIAA Field Hockey Committee, a rule change which would allow only girls to compete in high school field hockey, while boys would be offered the opportunity to compete in their own gender division.
At present, the MIAA allows boys to compete as members of field hockey teams when their respective schools do not provide the sport. Thus, many coaches, athletic directors and parents deem it to be a physical and competitive disadvantage for girls.
However, a proposal was approved by an 11-1 margin by the MIAA to present a rule change to sanction the MIAA Field Hockey Committee co-sponsored rule change, with the MIAA’s Blue Ribbon Committee, to review the change, and expects to make a decision before the 2020 season, if there is one, commences.
The “purpose” of the Field Hockey Coalition is to “advocate for the advancement of opportunities of girls participating in field hockey; the “imperative” is to “return opportunity, fair play and safety to the girls of Massachusetts playing field hockey,” with the intended “result” to be “positive change resulting in win-win solutions for both genders.”
The coalition includes 14 active field hockey coaches, including King Philip High’s Lisa Cropper, four former coaches, parents and a member of the MIAA Field Hockey Committee.
In three of the past four MIAA Division 1 South Tournaments, Somerset Berkley High, with two boys on the roster, have met and beaten King Philip High.
“All of us are fighting for the same thing: we want the boys to be able to play, just not against the girls,” former King Philip High coach Kim Meehan, a driving force behind the coalition, said. “So we petitioned the MIAA to create a boys’ 7-on-7 league.”
From the perspective of the coalition, the allowance for boys to compete as members of a co-ed field hockey team “diminishes the opportunity” for girls in the sport; has created a competitive imbalance; and created an “unsafe” field physically for girls.
It is such that injuries to girls have increased and become more severe in matches involving boys; that girls are intimidated by the mere presence of boys on another team or on the field; and such has created a “hostile” environment for competition.
Furthermore, according to the coalition proposal on competition, the physical advantages for boys in the sport creates a disadvantage for girls and results in unintended by inconsistent approaches in the manner in which the game is officiated.”
“Overwhelmingly, the MIAA said yes, and now it has to be approved, so we’re waiting, the coaches are all kind of in limbo,” said Meehan. “All of the coaches in the coalition want this — we’re pushing for this as soon as possible, but we don’t know if we’re going to have a season.”
The major complaint has been voiced at the Blue Raiders of Somerset Berkley High, who have dominated not just the South Coast Conference, but South Sectional Tournaments over recent seasons.
With two boys on the roster for the 2016 season, the Blue Raiders went 15-0-3 and advanced to the South sectional quarterfinals (losing 2-1 in overtime to coach Liz Hathaway’s King Philip Warriors); in 2017 with two boys, the Blue Raiders went 18-0-0, finishing as the South Sectional finalist, beating the Hathaway-led Warriors 1-0 in the title game; in 2018, the Blue Raiders went 17-1 with two boys and won the MIAA State title (beating King Philip 3-1 in the semifinal round of the Division 1 South Tournament with Meehan as the Warrior coach); and this past fall, the Blue Raiders successfully defended their MIAA State title, compiling an 18-0 record with two boys on the field, beating King Philip in the first round.
There are several other glaring cases.
For example, Wayland High School during the 2016-17-18 seasons compiled a 3-42-5 record with just girls on the team. In 2019, when three boys were added to the roster, Wayland compiled an 11-6-3 record.
In the South Coast Conference at Wareham High, during the 2016-17-18 seasons, the Vikings compiled a 2-47-1 record. But when two boys were added to the team for the 2019 season, the Vikings qualified for the MIAA Tournament with a 9-9-2 record.
At Plymouth North High, through the 2016-17 seasons, the field hockey team posted a 14-19-3 record. Since adding two boys to the program in 2018, Plymouth North has reserved its fortunes with a 16-4-3 record that year, and with three boys in 2019 went 14-3-2.
The very first year that a boy appeared on a Massachusetts high school team was in 1992, when Niles Draper at Chatham High, who with ACLU representation, was allowed to participate in the Massachusetts Superior Court decision.
The first “co-ed” teams to win titles date back to Southwick-West Springfield winning the Division 1 West title in 1999, and Hamilton-Wenham taking the Division 1 North title in 2000.
It was then in 2001 that Diane Lussier, the West Tournament Director, and Longmeadow High coach Ann Simonds recommended to the MIAA Field Hockey Committee that separate tournaments be created for “girls” and “co-ed” teams.
“We want to emphasize that opportunities are being lost for high school girls,” Meehan added. “There are girls sitting on benches that have been replaced by boys — that is the key loss, it’s an educational loss to women.”
If the proposal for boys’ 7-on-7 competition were to be placed upon further review by the MIAA’s Blue Ribbon Committee for competition, and field hockey proceeded with boys on the field for competition, the coalition then proposed a number of rule changes to minimize their impact such as: no more than two boys are allowed on the field at any one time; boys are not allowed to participate in any offensive or defensive zone corners; boys are not allowed to take penalty strokes; and boys are not allowed to participate in overtime periods.
“It’s been a long fight, we’re trying to do the right thing,” Meehan said. “What seems like common sense for both sides of the aisle — Malden has five boys on its team, Wayland has three boys.
“There’s definitely a need for it; there are boys who would play, maybe those who don’t want to play soccer in the field, maybe some of those hockey and lacrosse kids. It would be a great sport for them to keep the stick skills going.
“ It’s kind of like if you build a need for it, it will come.
“Seven-on-seven is a great game,” Meehan said of the potential for boys’ field hockey. “Maybe the girls will drop down to 7-on-7. Just like girls’ ice hockey, how three or four different towns got together and formed a girls hockey program (Foxboro High, Mansfield High and Oliver Ames for one).
“The boys could do that if they don’t have numbers, that’s what we’re promoting. We’re hoping that it can be a win-win for everybody.”