Legal concern kills rule change limiting field hockey boys

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

In recent months, there has been significant growing momentum in the state of Massachusetts to introduce new rules to limit the role boys play in girls field hockey. Everything seemed to be pushing in the direction of a trio of new regulations that would aim to even the playing field between teams which feature boys and those which don't.

Then legal experts piped up in Massachusetts, and the measure was shot down overnight.

South Hadley boys field hockey player Ben Menard
South Hadley boys field hockey player Ben Menard

According to the Boston Globe, which goes into much more detail on the debate around the rule proposals, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association's Board of Directors voted overwhelmingly (10-1) to reject a proposed rule change that would have limited the number of boys allowed on a field at a time, and the spaces on the field in which they could operate.

At the end of the day, despite a relative groundswell of support for the measure, the MIAA Board decided that there was nowhere nearly enough specific, statistical information to prove that the proposed measure could withstand a legal challenge that would claim it discriminated against the rights of boys.

"They gave anecdotal information," Pembroke Principal Ruth Lynch, one of the MIAA Directors who voted on the measure, told the Globe. "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."

That information wasn't forthcoming from a powerful cabal of longtime Massachusetts field hockey coaching legends who now say that the very statistics the MIAA claims would be needed to push the measure further won't be forthcoming because of the natural restraint exhibited by most girls who play the game at the high school level.

"Quite honestly, do we have to tell our girls not to avoid the overaggressive, unskilled male player?" Reading (Mass.) High coach Mim Jarema told the Globe. "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."

Regardless of the outcome, one sentiment seemed to be shared by all on both sides of the debate: They just wish boys wouldn't play field hockey to begin with.

"It's a compelling case, but at the same time, we have to obey the law," Concord-Carlisle (Mass.) High athletic director and MIAA board chairman Barry Haley told the Globe. "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."

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