Will Massachusetts introduce rules to limit male field hockey players?

Boys taking part in field hockey isn't new, yet the dominance exerted by some is reaching new levels. That was never more true than in Pennsylvania, where a German student named Cornelius Tietze, pictured below, almost singlehandedly piloted Wyoming (Pa.) Seminary to a state title this fall.

Now, Massachusetts wants to do something about it, with the focus of a recent Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association board of directors meeting to analyze how to level the field hockey playing field in a state where more and more boys are competing with the girls.

According to the Boston Herald, no one at the MIAA board meeting openly advocated eliminating boys from field hockey -- which is played as a girls-only sport in the U.S., but is competed in boys gender abroad --but two prominent coaches made arguments that the state scholastic sports association ought to consider introducing rule amendments to limit the ability of boys to dominate.

"We've been fortunate in that we've had a lot of good players who went on to play field hockey at Division 1 schools," Walpole (Mass.) High coach Marianne Murphy told the meeting. "Because of that, we've had success. But what happens with teams who aren't as fortunate to have the talent we have?"

Essentially, the scenario Murphy was speculating about was precisely what unfolded in Pennsylvania in 2010. The threat of Tietze-like wonder players dominating in Massachusetts increases each year. In 2010, South Hadley (Mass.) High star Chris Menard gained attention for his goal-scoring prowess and speed.

"This is an issue of safety, equity, and liability," Reading (Mass.) High coach Mim Jarema told the meeting. "It’s time for us to take up this challenge."

Fear of more boys like Menard materializing has Murphy and her counterparts concerned that the relative health, stability and competitiveness of their own all-girls programs will suffer if male players are allowed to keep competing on an even footing.

The two coaches also advocated for rule changes on the basis of safety, again prompted by the growing number of boys playing the sport. The speed and strength with which boys can hit a brittle field hockey ball is a concern, and could provide the basis for some sort of rule modification.

While MIAA legal counsel Roger Dowd heard all the concerns, he also made it clear that there would be no promises that any modifications would be in the offing. Still, the ramifications of such rule changes would be fascinating. It is fair for a state to adjust traditionally held, well-established rules to selectively punish one group of players on the basis of their sex? The concept alone clearly reeks of pure gender discrimination, a concern which Dowd alluded to in claiming that any rule changes could meet with "legal barriers."

As the Globe reported Dowd told the meeting, if safety isn't the focus of propsed rule changes, "the ACLU will be all over us."

And if rule changes are introduced, yet prove unsuccessful in limiting the prowess of particularly skilled boys, what is to keep boys from being outlawed from the sport altogether? That certainly seems like a next logical step if it's determined that male players are endangering the health of girls field hockey and the remainder of the sports' players, which is precisely what Murphy and Jarema claimed was happening at the MIAA meeting.

Regardless of what happens next, whether it be a significant rule change or inaction itself, the MIAA will be setting a precedent for the future of cross gendered participation in single sex sports.

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