KITTANNING, Pa. (AP) — A female high school ice hockey goalie in Pennsylvania is returning to the ice Monday for her first school game since she was the target of vulgar chants from spectators that resulted in discipline by a school and a youth sports organization.
Armstrong High School students chanted vulgarities at the Mars Area High School team's female goalie during an Oct. 28 game between the Armstrong River Hawks and Mars Fightin' Planets at the Armstrong team's Belmont Ice Arena near Kittanning, in western Pennsylvania. The chants from among a group of 50 to 60 students were captured on video posted to social media.
The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League on Thursday barred Armstrong students from River Hawks hockey games and placed the school’s team on probation for the remainder of the 2021-22 season, including the playoffs. Siblings of varsity players can attend only if they enter and sit with a parent or guardian, and the school must provide a faculty member or administrator at each home and away varsity game to serve as a monitor.
League Commissioner John Mucha called the students’ actions “disgusting” and “absolutely more than kids being kids.”
“The game should’ve been stopped until the behavior stopped or the fans were escorted out of the building,” Mucha said.
Meghan Duggan, Team USA Women’s Hockey Olympian, offered support to the Mars player in a tweet.
“Every time you take the ice, women and girls all over the hockey community are proud of YOU!," she said. “You represent so much more than the hateful words that were directed toward you."
Mars coach Steve Meyers said his goalie, who has started in all five of the team's games this season, was in tears after the second period. She and her family have declined to comment, and The Associated Press is not naming her in an effort to maintain her privacy and shield her from further abuse.
Meyers said she is the only goalie on the roster and one of a number of girls who have played high school hockey in previous years, some as goalie.
“We have no one else. She plays varsity and JV for us,” said Meyers, in his 14th year as coach. “We’ve had plenty of girls in this league before and never heard anything like this. With all the training we’re required to do as coaches about safe sports and sportsmanship, this should not happen. For it to fail this badly, it’s really disappointing.”
Armstrong's principal, Kirk Lorigan, said school officials were “appalled and embarrassed” and he was “disgusted” that parents and security guards did nothing to stop the chants. He apologized to the player, the team and the Mars community, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
Lorigan said that officials were still investigating but that “appropriate school discipline has been used." The Post-Gazette reported that he declined to say Thursday night whether suspensions were imposed. The school board also didn't specify disciplinary measures. It was unclear whether discipline was imposed only on students.
Armstrong County commissioners, however, extended the ban on students in grades nine to 12 attending hockey games at the Belmont complex to include grades seven and eight, as well. In addition, high school administrators have demanded that the Armstrong hockey association hire two security guards for all future games.
High school hockey in western Pennsylvania is not a school-sponsored sport, but a club sport run by parents and boosters at each school.
The Mars Hockey Club board in a statement Saturday expressed gratitude for the support but said directors wanted to “honor and protect the privacy of our goalie." Officials said their top priority was “to facilitate a safe and healthy environment where she, and all of our student-athletes, can continue to do what they love: play hockey."
“Clearly, the incident that happened on October 28 was completely unacceptable and the entire hockey community must take steps to ensure that any similar conduct will never happen again," the Mars club statement said. “We are hopeful that the attention this incident has drawn will shed light on the issues our female athletes face which must not be tolerated and that this attention will help with eliminating this type of conduct from our sport."
Armstrong, a high school in Kittanning, is 3-0 this season and defeated Mars 7-4 in the Oct. 28 game. Mars is 0-5.
On Saturday, the Mars goalie once again took to the ice to the cheers of supporters for her travel team, the Arctic Foxes, in a game in the Pittsburgh Amateur Hockey League. Her next high school game is scheduled Monday night at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
This story has been corrected to show that the Mars Area High School's team name is the Fightin' Planets, not the Fighting Planets.