The score was tied.
Even by the end of the first full overtime, after the players from UMaine and Temple University had battled up and down the field at Ohio’s Kent State University through the field hockey game’s four quarters, it remained locked at 0-0.
The Division I players for the Maine school were preparing to begin a second overtime, when their coach approached them with an update; Kent State was asking them to halt the match and come back that evening for a shootout.
“We were just kind of standing there confused because that’s never happened before,” UMaine captain Riley Field recalled in an interview with Boston.com.
Moments later, there was another update, she said.
They weren’t going to come back for a shootout. They weren’t going to finish that Saturday morning game at all.
The reason? A fireworks display for a football game was going to take place, and the field needed to be cleared for safety.
“The refs were already packing up and people were leaving,” Field said of the Sept. 7 game. “We just felt like we didn’t have a choice. And then it was more that as time went on, it was something that set in and we were like, ‘That’s not fair.’”
The message was clear, the team captain said. The work the women had put in that morning was less important than a celebration for the men’s football game.
“It was about what took priority,” she said. “It wasn’t even a game. It was a celebration, and it took priority over us finishing our game, which we just worked extremely hard for.”
Field started playing field hockey in the seventh grade, and started playing seriously — year-round — when she was a freshman in high school. The sport quickly became one of the most important things in her life, she said.
While the incident at Kent State was the first time she said she has felt emotionally and personally affected by the issues of gender equality in sports, it was not the first time she’s experienced them.
Growing up, she emphasized, girls get messages that their abilities in athletics are not valued the same as their male classmates.
“You kind of expect it,” Field said. “Maybe, if it’s just a recreational game, they’re telling us, ‘Well, you have to have at least four girls on your team.’ It’s the little things like that that we experience all through high school because otherwise nobody would put girls on the team. Because why? Well, they think boys are better at sports. So if they want to win they’re going to put more boys on their team.”
For a long time, the native of Sidney, Maine, said she just accepted that’s the way it was.
“I definitely have seen bigger athletes try to change things,” Field said. “Serena Williams, she’s one of the athletes that really fights for equity and equality for females in sports. Seeing that is inspiring, but I think it never struck a chord with me until this happened to me and my teammates.”
News about the abrupt halt to the game began to quickly spread on social media, with many expressing outrage on behalf of the two teams. The National Field Hockey Coaches Association issued a statement condemning the situation, urging Kent State to “do some soul searching and to take responsibility for the lack of judgement and poor-decision making.”
Well… that's a new one.
Today's game at @KentState has been declared a "no contest" after Kent State administration came onto the field prior to the second overtime half and called off the game to allow the noontime Kent football game to begin on time.
— UMaine Field Hockey (@UMaineFH) September 7, 2019
The game will be classified as an exhibition, affecting neither team's statistics or overall record. If more details reach us, we'll be sure to share them.
— UMaine Field Hockey (@UMaineFH) September 7, 2019
That's our team ?
Thank you to everybody for the support over the last few days. We can't wait to get back on the field this Friday at home, and we hope to see you there! pic.twitter.com/OQWXiSUMr2
— UMaine Field Hockey (@UMaineFH) September 9, 2019
Field, her teammates, and players from Temple weighed in online.
Field said her goal was just to explain what happened.
these are the fireworks that we were kicked off of the field hockey field for… which was behind the stadium. pic.twitter.com/UKBNWA617N
— Riley Field (@RileyField11) September 7, 2019
“It felt really good to see all the people that really do care,” she said. “Especially when it went beyond the point of just Maine and Temple fans. Once it went national, a lot of even bigger people in athletics were talking about it. It made me realize this is a big deal and it should be something that’s talked about and addressed.”
The next day, UMaine played, and lost to, Kent State.
Field said the previous day’s events, and the brewing outcry on social media, took a toll mentally on her and her team.
“I think it really did affect our confidence, even if we realized it or not,” she reflected. “It kind of followed us a little bit throughout the season. I think we felt like we were in a little bit of a rut. I personally felt like we were being told that our hard work meant nothing in comparison to fireworks before a football game. I think that was hard to retrain our minds to say, ‘You guys mean something, and you’re doing this for a bigger purpose.’”
And even while there were many expressing support, there were others doing the opposite.
The negative responses, while she was careful not to engage with them, just made Field want to speak out about the situation more.
In a statement days after the incident, Kent State President Todd Diacon called halting the game a “regrettable decision” and announced that an investigation by the school’s Office of Compliance, Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action would take place.
Less than a month later, Diacon shared the results of the investigation. Kent State found no Title IX violations or gender-related bias with the incident.
Field said she wasn’t surprised by the result, but she wishes that the school had reached out to players who were impacted by the decision as part of the investigation.
“They aren’t taking accountability for what they did and how they made people feel,” Field said. “I think that’s too bad for them and that’s too bad for other people — students or athletes at that school — who really want to make things right. They want to turn things around — I know that [the Kent State] field hockey team was very supportive of us and Temple. They felt horrible, they were embarrassed. So I feel sorry for them that they couldn’t have more say in the decision. Because I know that they want to work to make a change as well.”
Field, who is majoring in kinesiology and exercise science and is thinking about coaching after she graduates, said she plans to use the experience she and her teammates had as a platform to join the conversation around gender equality in athletics.
Even though she’s disappointed in the result of Kent State’s investigation, the UMaine senior said the incident led to necessary conversations and caused her own school to “look in the mirror” and ask if there was anything on their own campus that needed to be fixed. Female athletes gathered on campus together and talked about experiences of inequality they’ve gone through at UMaine or in high school.
A school official attended the conversation and took notes, Field said.
The 21-year-old said she knows the issue of gender equality in sports isn’t going to be fixed overnight. But she’s hopeful that starting the conversation about it in individual communities and schools can create a bigger impact than the investigation at Kent State ever would have.
“Every school really should use this opportunity to [ask], ‘What can we do for our student athletes to increase their success and make everyone feel like they matter [and] especially build these women?’ How are we going to build up young athletes in our community?’” the field hockey player said.
To other young women in sports, Field says to “be persistent” in the face of potential challenges like those she and her teammates faced and not be intimidated by the limitations others might put on them.
“You need to put yourself first and worry about yourself and your success,” she said. “If anyone tells you that you can’t play this because you’re a girl or you can’t be on this team or whatever, it’s just standing up for yourself and using your voice because if we never ask, we’re never going to get a ‘yes’ at all.”