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Boys get green light

MIAA votes down field hockey limits

By Bob Holmes
Globe Staff / June 10, 2011

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FRANKLIN — The emotional argument was that boys were hurting girls in field hockey. But in the end, emotions didn’t have a chance when matched against the threat of legal action and the absence of cold, hard facts.

The MIAA Board of Directors voted, 10-1, yesterday against a rule change that would have limited what boys can do in field hockey.

“It’s a slap in the face to the girls,’’ said Walpole field hockey coach Marianne Murphy, who was one of the proponents of the rule change, along with Reading’s Mim Jarema and Hopkinton’s Joan Bannon. “They’re supposed to be protecting the girls, and they let them down, as far as I’m concerned. The safety issue is still out there.’’

Only Notre Dame of Hingham athletic director Donna Brickley voted for the rule, which would have prohibited boys from playing inside the circle and limited the number of boys on the field at one time.

Those voting against were Rockland principal Stephen Sangster, East Boston principal Mike Rubin, retired Monson principal Jim Peters, Pembroke principal Ruth Lynch, Case principal Brian McCann, Amesbury principal Les Murray, Algonquin athletic director Fran Whitten, Xaverian assistant principal Keith Crowley, Athol athletic director David King, and Agawam School Committee member Roberta Doering.

Lynch, who is retiring this month, was sympathetic, but like the majority of the board, said she needed more proof.

“They gave anecdotal information,’’ she said. “But one of the questions we really challenged them, and we asked them to think about, is to gather data to verify that the boys that play this game are really causing a safety issue to our girls. That’s the question that we would really like [answered].

“And it’s a legal issue. The reality of it is that we would certainly be questioned if we went in that direction. If we had information that was really specific — that these are the number of games that have involved boys playing and these are the number of injuries and they could show a direct correlation that it’s really an unsafe thing — then I would say, yes, we need to stop this.’’

For Murphy, Jarema, and Bannon, the reasoning was more an excuse for inaction than a request for more information. They maintain girls will avoid injuries by getting out of the way and that a study by the Field Hockey and Sports Medicine Committees, as approved by the board, won’t produce worthwhile results.

“We’re feeling for the girls on the teams,’’ said Bannon, who was disappointed the board chose to go into executive session to discuss the rule. “We want to know what it will take, in terms of injuries, for the MIAA to address this situation.’’

“And quite honestly, do we have to tell our girls not to avoid the overaggressive, unskilled male player?’’ asked Jarema. “Because when the girls avoid him, it cuts us off at the knees because we don’t have a stack of injuries to report.

“If they’re looking for a stack of injuries, then we have to tell our girls not to avoid harmful play. Girls, whether it’s by nature or by smarts, will avoid that harmful play.’’

Brickley shared the frustration of the proponents.

“It’s one of those things that, in Massachusetts, in a lot of ways, we keep hitting a wall relative to the law,’’ said Brickley, who is also a member of the Field Hockey Committee that had voted, 12-0, in support of the rule. “That’s very frustrating. Frustrating to me as a female athletic director.

“I think it’s unfortunate when we do have good people who put so much effort into something like this, the natural reaction is to get discouraged and throw their hands up. I hope that won’t be the case. I hope there’s something good down the line for our females.’’

Board chairman Barry Haley, the Concord-Carlisle athletic director, said a picture can stir emotion but can’t stand up to a legal challenge and the state’s Equal Rights Amendment, which has been used repeatedly in striking down MIAA attempts to keep boys off girls’ teams.

“The proponents of the rule change said it was safety-related, but you have to have demonstrated numbers, statistics, things like that,’’ said Haley. “When you show a picture of a boy colliding with a girl, I’m sure girls collide with girls in field hockey, too, and there are injuries.

“It’s a compelling case, but at the same time, we have to obey the law. When legal counsel states this is discriminatory against boys, then we have to support the law.

“I wish boys didn’t choose to play field hockey. It is a girls game.’’

The concussion rules approved Wednesday by the state Public Health Commission were a source of frustration at yesterday’s meeting.

Under the new rules, coaches, student-athletes, and parents must take online concussion courses, and regulations were imposed that govern when athletes can return to play after sustaining a concussion. The MIAA had asked that the process of certifying a student’s eligibility be streamlined to avoid burdening its schools.

According to Haley, the MIAA seemed to be ignored.

“I’m dismayed that we had a lot of comment from a lot of people and it seemed none of our recommendations were taken,’’ said Haley. “To invest 6-7 months in this, it was very frustrating. Retirement looks a lot more attractive today.’’

Haley said he would have to collect roughly 1,600 forms before his student-athletes can play in the fall.

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