Coed play is revisited

Changes proposed for field hockey

By Bob Holmes
Globe Staff / March 11, 2011

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FRANKLIN — Blame Bobby Grimshaw and Niles Draper, or a 1976 law that many believe puts girls at risk, but the topic of boys playing on field hockey teams is back.

Field hockey coaches Mim Jarema of Reading and Marianne Murphy of Walpole spoke at yesterday’s MIAA Board of Directors meeting on behalf of a proposed rule change that would restrict what boys can do during a game.

From the 1992 court case involving Chatham’s Draper to Newton North’s double-overtime win over North Andover in November in which Grimshaw scored the game-winner, boys playing field hockey has been a longtime issue for the MIAA and those who think boys don’t belong on the same field with girls. Newton North’s winning score came with seven players on each side; four of Newton North’s were boys.

The state’s Equal Rights Amendment, passed in 1976, is the reason courts have blocked the MIAA’s efforts to restrict boys from playing. Because of that law, the MIAA is reluctant to test the waters again. But Jarema and Murphy are hoping to get in place by fall rules that would restrict what boys can do inside the offensive circle.

“This is an issue of safety, equity, and liability,’’ said Jarema. “It’s time for us to take up this challenge.’’

But not without hesitation.

“We want to tread very carefully with what we do,’’ said Concord-Carlisle athletic director Barry Haley, the board chairman.

“Across the board, girls are at a disadvantage when competing against boys,’’ said MIAA attorney Roger Dowd. “That’s obvious to us, but not necessarily to the judges.’’

Volleyball has restrictions on what boys can do when playing on girls’ teams, and board members hope a field hockey rule change could survive a legal challenge.

“This might be a way that would work,’’ said Dowd. “You would still have to show a health and safety issue.’’

Dowd concluded that if safety weren’t the focus, “the ACLU will be all over us.’’

With that in mind, the board directed the issue to the Sports Medicine Committee and will discuss it further at the April 1 annual meeting and at its meeting April 28.

Other issues on the agenda included:

Public vs. private tournaments Duxbury athletic director Thomas Holdgate and Dedham athletic director Mike Plansky are the architects of a proposal to separate the public schools and the non-publics in MIAA tournaments. Plansky pointed to Central Catholic winning the Division 1 basketball title last winter, led by Windham, N.H., resident Carson Desrosiers. They believe public schools competing against schools with no boundaries is a “clear inequity.’’ The board sent the issue to the next Tournament Management Committee meeting April 4.

Virtual schools The Greenfield School Committee approved the first “virtual school’’ in Massachusetts, and with its opening in the fall, the MIAA board introduced its own virtual question. With the growth of virtual schools, in which students learn from their home PC, or even a laptop on a beach, the board asked, what happens when a student enrolled in a virtual school wants to play for the local high school? Those students do not fall under home school laws. No student has asked to play in Greenfield, but the MIAA hopes to head off a future problem by looking into the legal issues and discussing it April 28.

Concussions — Schools were e-mailed the proposed regulations, as written by the State Department of Health, regarding the new concussion law. There will be a comment period until April 8 and a public hearing on the regulations next Tuesday. The board encouraged athletic directors to attend the Tuesday hearing.