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The two-day tryout for a national boys’ field-hockey team scheduled for last weekend in Owings Mills, Md., was canceled.
Which raises at least a couple questions. Such as: There’s a U.S. national boys’ field-hockey team? And: Really?
The auditions were for an under-16 boys’ team put together by U.S. Field Hockey, the Colorado-based organization that serves as the primary sanctioning body for the sport in this country. The cancellations, however, had nothing to do with inclement weather forecasts.
“We only had three people who were interested,” says Dean Nakamura, assistant director of high performance for U.S. Field Hockey.
The event won’t be rescheduled. The three boys who sent in applications will be invited to a similar tryout being held next month—in California.
If they make the trip, the local lads might find that the West Coast actually does have something of a boys’ field-hockey scene. According to U.S. Field Hockey, boys in Southern California began picking up the game in 1984, thanks to the outreach of international teams competing in the men’s field-hockey competition at the Los Angeles Olympics that year. The 16-man roster of the team sent to the Dominican Republic to represent the United States at last year’s Pan Am games consisted of one guy from Doylestown, Pa., and 15 Californians.
Nakamura’s group claims field hockey is the second-most-played team sport in the entire world, behind only soccer. And even in this country, men and field hockey have a history together. The United States has fielded an Olympic men’s team since 1932—our women didn’t go for the gold until 1980.
It’s also true that America’s peak as a field-hockey nation came not courtesy of our women, but of our men, who took the bronze medal at those 1932 Olympics in L.A. Nitpickers might want to point out that only three nations fielded teams for the 1932 Games, and that the U.S. squad earned the bronze by losing its two games to Japan and India by a combined score of 33-3. But a medal’s a medal. And in any case, the Olympic field-hockey fortunes of our countrymen have been crummy ever since.
In recent years, the D.C. area really has become something of a field-hockey hotbed, if only for females. In the fall, the University of Maryland program is one of the strongest in the country: The Terrapins made their ninth appearance in the NCAA Final Four in the fall and have won three national championships.
But boys who want to play field hockey around here haven’t exactly gotten the Michelle Wie welcome. There are no boys’ teams at area high schools. Before the 2002 season, three boys who wanted to play field hockey for the Montgomery Blair High School squad were denied the chance to even try out for the team.
And in the fall of 2003, brothers Jarrod and Josh Davis made the Meade Mustangs field-hockey squad, even agreeing to wear the same uniform—a kilt—as the school’s girls, unmasculine as that was.
“It seems to be typical in these situations that [school administrators] try to get boys to quit by making them wear a kilt,” says Nakamura.
Once the season got started, some teams from other high schools in Anne Arundel County forfeited rather than play against the co-ed Meade squad. And, come playoff time, the state tournament committee told Meade’s coach that Maryland rules prohibit boys from playing for the championship. Meade wouldn’t be allowed to compete unless the coach cut the brothers.
She cut the brothers.
Now Anne Arundel appears to be on the verge of making the game even less welcoming for boys. Since the make-’em-wear-skirts ploy wasn’t enough to dissuade the Davises, county athletic directors are currently mulling over a proposal to change the official name of the sport from “field hockey” to “girls’ field hockey.”
“From a legal standpoint, changing the name of the team won’t change anything,” says Sarah Wunsch, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, when asked about the tack being taken in Anne Arundel. “It really wouldn’t matter if the word ‘girls’ was on the team. It’s about what’s available to the students.”
In 1991, Wunsch represented Niles Draper, who wanted to play varsity field hockey for his school, Chatham (Mass.) High School. Like the Meade brothers, Draper had to wear a kilt and endure taunts from classmates when other teams in the league forfeited rather than play against a boy.
But when school officials ordered Chatham to sideline the boy for the playoffs, Draper sued the Massachusetts’ Interscholastic Athletic Association in state court using the Massachusetts’ Equal Rights Amendment. And won.
“At the time we did our case, there was one field-hockey coach who went on and on about how this was going to ruin girls’ field hockey,” says Wunsch. “We cared about things like that, but this came down to a boy who loved field hockey, and if there was a boys’ field-hockey team, he would have been on that. And none of those fears materialized. There was not an onslaught of boys wanting to play field hockey. If anything, the last 10 years have shown that there’s nothing to be fearful about a boy on the field-hockey team. People should get over this by now.”
Draper, after a stint in the U.S. Marines, is now an assistant field-hockey coach at Chatham High. There are two boys on his team. —Dave McKenna