US college hockey is feeling the effects of an equal rights row after a female athlete sustained serious facial and dental injuries from a male player in a game.
The incident occurred in a match between Dighton-Rehoboth and Swampscott, with Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) rules allowing boys to play on the opposite gender teams when there isn’t a team equivalent for males.
The female athlete was hit in the face (masks aren’t mandatory in the league) from a short corner by a deflected shot from a male student on Swampscott’s team in a state play-off game earlier this month.
Following the incident, Kelsey Bain, the Dighton-Rehoboth captain, sent a letter to the MIAA calling for urgent reform, with her post being viewed nearly one million times on social media.
“The shrieks and screams of fear and pain that projected from her after being hit filled the stadium,” Bain wrote on social media. “The looks of horror and shock on the faces of the girls surrounding her were also chilling.
“Following the injury, my teammates were sobbing not only in fear for their teammate but also in fear that they had to go back out onto the field and continue a game, playing against a male athlete who hospitalized one of our own. The traumatic event sheds light on the rules and regulations of male athletes participating in women’s sports.”
According to reported figures, 41 boys played on girls hockey teams during the 2019/20 college season and Bain says there should be a separate league.
Bain added: “There is likely more interest, but the stigma of boys playing on a girl’s team is probably a deterrent.
“I am sure school districts can institute co-op teams to create further opportunities for males to play in their own division, which I assume you are already aware of because, under rule 34 of the MIAA handbook, there is a division for boys’ field hockey listed under the Fall Sports category.
“You have a chance to change the negative publicity the MIAA has been receiving due to the incident that happened … by moving forward with the proposal for a seven versus seven boys league.”
The school’s superintendent, Bill Runey, told reporters: “Seeing the horror in the eyes of our players and coaches upon greeting their bus … is evidence to me that there has to be a renewed approach by the MIAA to protect the safety of our athletes.”
Meanwhile, Swampscott High School athletic director Kelly Wolff defended the right for the male athlete to play in the female game.
“We are sorry to see any player get hurt and wish the Dighton-Rehoboth player a speedy recovery,” Wolff said. “The Swampscott player who took the shot is a four-year varsity player and co-captain who, per MIAA rules, has the exact same right to participate as any player on any team.”
In a statement, the MIAA defended its ruling. “We respect and understand the complexity and concerns that exist regarding student safety. However, student safety has not been a successful defense to excluding students of one gender from participating on teams of the opposite gender,” the statement said.
Runey added: “The law is the law and I understand the MIAA is hand strung to that to an extent but I think they need to go back and find a middle ground that would increase player safety.”