THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Quite a lot to this mix

MIAA weighing how boys play in field hockey

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By Bob Holmes
Globe Staff / June 8, 2011

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Cliff Hedges still has the injury report.

“Male opponent struck her in head/neck area with field hockey stick, causing her to fall to ground, loss of memory of incident, and be sidelined. Now she has chronic headaches and needs neurology specialist apt.’’

The “her’’ is his daughter, Corey Hedges, who was a senior goalie for the Longmeadow High School field hockey team. The “male opponent’’ was Ben Menard, a senior playing on the South Hadley team.

Corey was in goal for the Western Massachusetts title game last November against South Hadley and brothers Ben and Chris Menard. The game was tied, 3-3, late in the second half. Off a pass from Chris, Ben scored with five minutes left to make it 4-3. And on the play, Ben collided with Corey. There is a well-circulated picture in field hockey circles of Ben with his stick at the level of Corey’s head.

“I’ve never, ever seen any female make that type of contact to another female player,’’ said Cliff Hedges, a field hockey and lacrosse official and coach for 17 years. “He reverted back to his ice hockey mode. I don’t think a girl has that kind of physical mentality. I personally think he could have prevented it.’’

When the MIAA Board of Directors meets tomorrow for the last time this school year, one item on the agenda will be an emergency rule change proposal designed to avert the type of injury that Corey Hedges and other girls have experienced. But this isn’t just a field hockey issue. It’s boys vs. girls. It’s constitutional law vs. common sense.

Cliff has said his daughter was “damn near physically assaulted’’ that day. Corey, who plans on playing in college in the fall, doesn’t remember the collision. She suffered a concussion, and seven months later, the symptoms linger. She declined to be interviewed for this article.

The MIAA can’t stop boys from playing field hockey. In fact, the Franklin-based organization that has been in charge of Massachusetts high school sports since 1978 would be happy if there were more boys playing, so it could have separate teams.

Last fall, 31 boys played field hockey on 20 teams, which isn’t nearly enough to warrant separate teams. And the boys who play, in many cases, dominate the game.

Led by the Menards, South Hadley won the Western Mass. title last fall. Ben led Western Mass. in scoring with 43 goals. Chris added 16.

Newton North advanced to the Division 1 North quarterfinals thanks in large part to the play of junior Bobby Grimshaw. In a 3-2 double-overtime win over North Andover in the first round, Grimshaw scored two goals, including the winner.

Some teams would rather forfeit than face a team with boys. Murdock did so in October rather than face Monty Tech. In 1992, Harwich, Martha’s Vineyard, Provincetown, and Nantucket forfeited games to avoid playing Chatham, which had Niles Draper.

If the rule change is passed, boys still can play field hockey, but with the following limits:

■ No boy is allowed inside the striking circle (the area in front on the net).

■ Mixed-gender teams may play no more than two boys at a time.

■ In seven-on-seven overtime periods during tournament play, a mixed-gender team may play only one boy at a time.

Courts’ stance clear
Health and safety. They are the two most important words in the debate. Without evidence of how they apply to this issue, the proposal won’t have a chance of passing. If safety isn’t the issue, then this is just another attempt to keep boys from playing on girls’ teams.

Starting in 1979, the courts have made it clear that boys have a right to play field hockey. That year, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court struck down an MIAA rule barring boys from playing on girls’ teams because it “could not be justified under the Massachusetts Equal Rights Amendment.’’

In 1992, Chatham and the American Civil Liberties Union challenged MIAA Rule 51, which allowed single-gender teams to forfeit games against mixed-gender teams (such as Chatham) without being charged with a loss — a rule Harwich, Martha’s Vineyard, Provincetown, and Nantucket took advantage of.

In ruling against the MIAA in August 1993, Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Gerald O’Neill said the rule again violated the state’s Equal Rights Amendment and “is simply an effort by the MIAA to conduct business as usual while paying lip service to prior court rulings against its discriminatory practices.’’

ACLU attorney Sarah Wunsch said at the time, “It’s very demeaning for the MIAA to say that girls have to be protected from boys.’’

The MIAA has heard the message, to the point that some feel it has become gun-shy and tries too hard to stay out of court. But that hasn’t stopped the occasional rule change proposal from surfacing in Franklin.

In 2003, a proposal that called for a ban on boys participating on girls’ teams in contact sports — which includes field hockey — was voted down, 14-3, by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Council. The MIAA website explains the decision:

“The MIAC was aware that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court had ruled that the Equal Rights Amendment of the Massachusetts Constitution precludes the MIAA from making such ‘gender-based distinctions.’ Several subsequent Superior Court cases also found against the MIAA whenever the Association attempted to limit the participation of boys on traditional girls’ teams.’’

So the MIAA looks at frustrated parents, coaches, and fans who want to keep boys out of field hockey and says, “Don’t go there.’’

But three women with almost 40 years of coaching experience are trying a different approach. Walpole’s Marianne Murphy, Hopkinton’s Joan Bannon, and Reading’s Mim Jarema are leading the effort to protect girls by limiting boys.

“We discussed, ‘have you seen this type of an injury?’ whether it’s a broken kneecap, or a concussion . . . I’ve never seen it,’’ said Jarema, Reading’s field hockey coach for 21 years. “I’ve seen my goalie go down into a slide tackle. But I’ve never seen anybody collide and put her down. I have never seen that type of force that can shatter a kneecap.

“When I talk to other people, they say the same thing: They don’t see the impact type of injury.

“We’re trying to reduce injuries. The girls on the other team didn’t choose to play against boys, they didn’t choose to come out to that added risk.’’

Jarema objects to the notion that the proposed rule change is nothing more than picking on boys who have every right to play the sport.

“When I hear statements like we’re making boys second-class citizens, or you’re picking on the boys, that wasn’t my intent,’’ she said. “My intent was to make it a safer game environment, and to make it a fairer game environment. And the thing is, when you make it safer, you make it fairer.’’

Credibility bruised
Supporters of the rule change may have to rethink one of the examples of boys hurting girls. At the Field Hockey Committee meeting in April, many in attendance had stories of girls who were hurt, including the case of Acton-Boxboro’s Alicia Citro, who, it was said, had her knee shattered when a boy’s shot hit her. But was it?

During A-B’s second-round game against Wayland in the 2003 Division 1 North tournament, Citro, then a senior, took up position inside the circle to defend a Wayland corner.

Wayland had two boys on the team, Zach Freundlich and Sam Heller. One of the boys — neither coach could remember which one — took a shot and lifted the ball into Citro’s knee. As A-B coach Mae Shoemaker said, “That was the end of her season and the end of our season.’’ Wayland went on to win, 1-0.

But Citro, now living in New York City, was surprised to hear that her knee had been “shattered.’’ She called it a bad bruise. Her knee was swollen and she was on crutches for almost three weeks, but she returned to run indoor track for the Colonials.

“I was in pain, but I’ve had worse injuries in sports,’’ said Citro, who couldn’t even be sure which knee had been hurt.

Citro went on to play field hockey at the University of Rochester. Today she runs marathons, and though her injury has been exaggerated over the years, she understands the concern with boys playing against girls.

“It could potentially be a safety issue,’’ she said. “The boys in Wayland were incredibly aggressive.’’

A threat or not?
Adam Izzicupo agrees that field hockey can be dangerous. While playing for Saugus in September 2006, Izzicupo lost a tooth when a Gloucester girl’s stick caught him in the mouth. In that same game, Izzicupo collided with a Gloucester player and broke her finger. The fact that he scored two goals and assisted on four others in a 6-0 win made him enemy No. 1 on the North Shore.

Today, Izzicupo still plays field hockey, but for Northeastern’s club team. The physical therapy major has no problem with the rule that limits the number of boys on the field, since NU plays under those same rules. But being banned from the circle is another issue.

“That doesn’t really make any sense,’’ said Izzicupo, who was the Northeastern Conference’s leading scorer and MVP that fall. “You’re looking to isolate a player and keep them from the most important part of the field.

“It’s not like a boy brings a more physical aspect. Injuries happen regardless of who’s on the field.’’

But are boys a danger to girls, especially in the circle?

“I don’t think so,’’ said Izzicupo. “I think that’s more playing into the stereotype that a male’s going to be more physical. The No. 1 thing is to win the game, not to see how many people you can take out.’’

Newton North’s Grimshaw doesn’t like the proposed rule but will play in the fall regardless of any change.

“I think it’s a little bit ridiculous,’’ he said. “Maybe there are some health issues, but it’s not like we’re going to go out there and tackle the girls.’’

He also objects to being called a threat.

“You could say that about anything,’’ he said. “You could also say girls are dangerous to boys. Anybody holding a field hockey stick can be dangerous. It’s not just boys.’’

Jaime Mariani disagrees. The Nashoba Regional coach of 10 years has seen what boys can do and is concerned.

“With more male players taking blistering shots on goal, the chances for injury are increasing dramatically,’’ said Mariani in an email to the MIAA associate director Sherry Bryant. “Some girls are literally running out of harm’s way rather than trying to contest a shot.’’

Both sides have had their say. Now it’s up to the 18-member Board of Directors. And no one is making any predictions.

“I have no idea, I really don’t,’’ said Jarema, who agreed with those who consider the proposal a good compromise. “I’d love to think it will be viewed and reviewed with very much an open mind to do the best for the student-athlete.’’

Cliff Hedges isn’t so sure.

“They’ve got no backbone to stand up and do the right thing,’’ said Hedges. “This is common sense.’’

But he still holds out hope.

“For the first time, they actually have evidence,’’ he said. “A picture’s worth a thousand words.’’

Bob Holmes can be reached at rholmes@globe.com.

RELATED

The number of boys who played field hockey since 2000:
2010 - 31 boys
2009 - 36
2008 - 26
2007 - 22
2006 - 26
2005 - 22
2004 - 15
2003 - 14
2002 - 20
2001 - 31
2000 - 18

The following 20 schools had one boy or more participating on their field hockey team last fall.
1. Amherst
2. Assabet Valley
3. Athol
4. Bourne
5. Brockton
6. Case
7. Danvers
8. Franklin
9. Franklin County Tech
10. Leicester
11.. Leominster
12. Mahar
13. Marlboro
14. Middleboro
15. Montachusett
16. North Central Charter (Fitchburg)
17. Quabbin
18. Revere
19, South Hadley
20. Worcester North