Corrections & Clarifications: An earlier version of this post included an inaccurate statistic attributed to the Boston Globe and MIAA about the number of boys competing in field hockey in Massachusetts in 2017.
Often in Massachusetts, a notable field hockey team is led in part by a boy playing on a girls team. Well, Walpole (Mass.) High School field hockey coach Jen Quinn has had enough of it.
Quinn, who heads up one of the state’s most successful programs, recently saw her Walpole squad eliminated in the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) South regional final by Somerset Berkley, which features two boys in prominent roles. As reported by the Boston Globe, while Quinn doesn’t want to tell boys not to play, she does want to tell them they need to play in their own separate league or division.
“We’re trying to see what path to go down,” Quinn told the Globe. “All I know at this point is that something needs to change: whether that’s a number of rule changes, creating their own league, change needs to be made.
“You take a 110-pound boy and a 110-pound girl, he’s still going to be bigger, stronger, faster. They can generate more velocity on the ball. They have more power. It is totally evident in those two Somerset Berkley boys.”
Quinn’s comments underscore concerns that have escalated in the Bay State for a number of years. It’s hard to tell precisely when the panic about having boys compete in girls field hockey began, but the 2010 breakout seasons of brother Chris and Ben Menard on the South Hadley (Mass.) High School varsity team is a good place to start.
The Menard brothers (Ben went on to play college lacrosse at Springfield and is now a lacrosse coach at Western New England) were lightning rods for controversy as they led their Tigers team to a Western Massachusetts title, but they’re not the only ones.
What’s interesting is that from a sheer data perspective, not that much has changed statewide. In 2011, there were 31 boys playing field hockey across some 20 teams alongside girls in the state of Massachusetts. In the 2017-18 school year, that number increased to 36. Officially, 7,914 girls competed on teams across the state. That’s a negligible increase (from a statistical perspective), and one which still leads the total number of male participants in stark relief to their female counterparts; there’s just one boy playing field hockey in Massachusetts for every 219 girls.
For now, there’s nothing formal that Quinn, other coaches or even MIAA officials can do to completely stop boys from participating in field hockey; the right for boys to compete on girls team when a sport is enshrined in legal precedent. Massachusetts was the first state to rule it was unconstitutional to bar a player from competing based solely on gender some three decades ago. In an interesting footnote to that case, the MIAA reported to a court that there were 20-30 boys playing field hockey in the state in 1985, further demonstrating a broader stability in the participation numbers across the state.
That’s why Quinn’s measures are increasingly reliant on soft influence. The coach has advocated boycotting games against mixed-gender teams and instituting gender-based rule changes to limit boys’ impact. Or, better yet, creating their own league. “… change needs to be made,” she told the Globe. She also cited rule changes that were instituted in Pennsylvania to limit the impact of boys on a game.
Or, maybe it doesn’t. There’s no question that male field hockey players have made an impact, and continue to as Somerset Berkley stars Lucas Crook (in midfield) and Alex Millar (in defense) proved during the team’s 22-1-0 rush to the state final. Whenever a girl competes alongside boys, she’s heralded as a brave, iconoclastic student athlete, the kind universally worthy of praise. When a boy competes against girls in field hockey in Mass., he’s accused of cheating.
That’s not the fault of the male players, of course. They’re playing a sport they love against the only competition they’re allowed. It’s not their fault that they are more physically developed than their foes.
But that also presumes that they hold an inherent advantage in the sport itself just because they have physical advantages. Not so says Cris Maloney, a field hockey expert based in New Jersey.
“Thank goodness there are boys playing field hockey,” Maloney told USA TODAY. “Just because a boy might be taller, or faster, doesn’t mean that he’s going to be a better field hockey player. I was an All-American track star in high school, but I can’t tell you how many times I overran the ball trying to dribble it down the field. A really fast boy will usually beat out a slower girl for the ball. A really fast girl will usually beat out a slower girl to the ball. But a really skilled player who can dribble circles around another player will beat both of them out (for a spot on the team).”
That, in turn, is what makes the field hockey debate in Massachusetts so compelling. In a very real sense, both sides are correct; in some ways it is unfair that more physically advanced boys can compete on a level playing field with female counterparts. It’s also unfair to limit them from doing so, particularly without providing another viable outlet for them to compete in the sport.