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May 31, 2020 — A step forward?

For the last several years, the occasional male field hockey player has, for better or worse, affected state tournament results in the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association state tournament. Names like Ben Menard, Alex Millar, Nate Coolidge, and Lucas Crook have excelled in this the landscape and, for better or worse, been powerful reminders of the systematic exclusion of a single gender from the sport for the last century.

Last Friday, the MIAA Field Hockey Committee voted on a possible solution to the problem: varsity boys’ field hockey played in the 7-on-7 environment.

Massachusetts isn’t the only state to have legalized boys’ field hockey on boys’ teams; Pennsylvania did so only a few years ago, but not a single 11-member team has formed.

Whether seven-a-side field hockey teams will form in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is very, very much an open question.

“It’s going to take a little bit to grow,” MIAA associate director Sherry Bryant tells The Boston Globe. “We certainly know we have that passionate group in that coalition. We’ll make a plan, we’ll start some informal meetings. We’re advocating for passing the rule first, to at least get it on as a sanctioned sport.”

The passing of the proposal comes near the end of the window for the sport to be added by the 2021-22 academic year.

I commend this step, but can’t help wondering if creating a legal framework for a 7-on-7 competition is little but window dressing without a concerted effort to encourage boys to come out for field hockey.

Think of it: can you see even eight boys in one of Massachusetts’ exceptionally small school districts in the Berkshires or along the South Shore taking up the sport?

It would take some doing.

May 30, 2020 — No statute of limitations

There have been a number of misconduct scandals involving people who have been entrusted with managing national governing bodies of sport in the last few years.

The complete seamy underbelly of the USA Gymnastics Federation has been unveiled over the last five years, with the investigation of former women’s gymnastics physician Larry Nasser.

The culling of people within USA Gymnastics has continued, with the suspension two days ago of prominent coach Maggie Haney, who was targeted by the SafeSport program after allegations of abuse. Haney has been suspended for eight years (two full Olympic cycles) because of her actions.

But the SafeSport program has also been investigating not only coaches, but higher-ups within individual sports. And, in a welcome move towards transparency and justice, the term “statute of limitations” does not apply.

Take, for example, the allegations against USA Hockey president Jim Smith. While he was holding positions with the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois between 1985 and 1988, he had allegedly been notified of sexual misconduct on the part of Tom “Chico” Adrahtas, a Chicago-area coach.

The allegations were made by The Athletic in February, and Smith’s response was that he didn’t have knowledge of the misconduct while he was AHAI president. Which could have been true.

It could also be argued that the reporting structure for such crimes was not in place 35 years ago.

But the fact remains that the Adrahtas went on from his coaching position in Illinois, only to perpetrate other kinds of misdeeds while on the staff as the University of Minnesota men’s hockey team as well as when he was head coach at Robert Morris.

And as we’ve gotten to know over the last several years when it comes to these kinds of scandals, the errors of omission (i.e., doing nothing about the situation) are just as egregious as the errors of commission.

I have a feeling this is going to end badly.

May 28, 2020 — A top professional, making a splash

If you’ve been to a UWLX or WPLL contest over the last three years, you couldn’t take your eyes off Kara Mupo.

Whether as a member of the Philadelphia Force or with the New England Command, Mupo seemed to find seams in opposing defenses and finish with flair.

Starting next fall, Mupo is going to take her coaching talents to George Mason University, an Atlantic-10 school which has had decent talent over the years, but has never made an NCAA Division I Tournament in its quarter-century-plus of existence.

I think Mupo has a great chance to turn around the fortunes of the Patriots’ program. She’s a product of Long Island and is an alumna of the Northwestern University women’s lacrosse program, having won two championships as a player.

Somehow, if she can get a player or two from her team to buy into playing and training at that mythical “next level,” Mupo is going to be a great success there.

May 25, 2020 — When the damage was done four years ago

There is one sidebar to the end of the 2020 NCAA women’s lacrosse season, and that’s the ascending of Notre Dame into a championship-level contender. The Irish were holding the No. 2 ranking in the Inside Lacrosse poll with a 7-0 record. One of those seven wins was a two-goal win at Northwestern.

A player who was expected to be part of the team was junior Kaci Messier, a highly-regarded attacking midfielder for Victor (N.Y.) Senior. She had nearly 120 goals her junior and senior lacrosse seasons.

But there was an event from the fall sports season that, regrettably, defined Messier’s ability and role for years afterwards.

According to this story in the Canandaigua Daily Messenger, Messier had been the target of violent conduct on the part of another player in the state soccer playoffs. The blows to her head resulted in a winter season during which she had to go through concussion tests 12 times before being cleared to play.

By the time she matriculated to Notre Dame, she was, frankly, a medical time bomb. Even a glancing blow to her head could have resulted in a secondary concussion.

Instead, she received two more concussions before she was obligated to leave the field as an active player. She spent the shortened 2020 season in a support role with the team.

But, for a moment, let’s go back to the fall of 2016. According to video, the defender from the Churchville-Chili (N.Y.) co-op team had not only head-butted Messier, but had punched her in the face. It was an action which, presumably, had not been punished by what should have been a red card.

The regrettable thing is that there wasn’t a card shown. Even more regrettable, a sanction wouldn’t have lessened the severity of that first concussion. The damage was done.

 

 

May 24, 2020 — The missing plaques

This weekend was supposed to have been when championships in NCAA Division I, II, and III were to have been handed out in women’s lacrosse. One can speculate all day as to what might have happened if the Coronavirus had not hit the United States worse than in any other country in the world.

Indeed, the Coronavirus hotspots, when you look at the National Geographic map of the United States with contagion data, envelops most of the major women’s lacrosse markets along the Eastern seaboard, from northern Virginia clear up to Boston.

With a short sample of games in all three divisions, it’s hard to determine which teams would have made it to this weekend. There were, however, clear front-runners developing as of mid-March: North Carolina in Division I, LeMoyne in Division II, and Middlebury in Division III.

So, who would the contenders have been on this the final gameday of the college season?

I think Division I would have seen a great run late from Loyola. The Greyhounds are, after all, coached by the greatest female lacrosse player who ever lived. This year, in a couple of games I observed, the team was developing an identity that I hadn’t seen from a Greyhounds team in some 20 years. Loyola completely outclassed a Florida side that I had projected to be in the national top five, and they also beat out the University of Pennsylvania in a 34-goal thriller.

Division II, I think, would have seen a great challenge from West Chester University. The Rams have been there before in terms of experience, in comparison to Lindenwood and Queens, who may have been able to mount early challenges to the Division II order, but there’s no substitute for having been in Final Fours before.

In Division III, even though I would have probably wagered that Tufts would make another run to the last four, I think there’s another team that would have been eager to make a title run. That team is Franklin & Marshall, which last won a national title in 2009 and had its run of form sidetracked by a hazing scandal that ended the team’s 2012 campaign. The Diplomats have made it to the national semifinals twice since, but they had a strong team this spring and, I think, could have been a match for the Panthers.

Hopefully, we’ll be able to get the testing, treatment, and vaccines necessary to get college sports back up and running, especially given the talent glut that will be in play in women’s lacrosse next year, with all of the fifth-year seniors as well as some transformative players coming onto the scene.

 

 

May 20, 2020 — A two-sport coaching great hangs up her whistle

The first time I met Diane Chapman, she was coaching the Garden City (N.Y.) field hockey team during perhaps the richest seam of form of any team at any time.

Back in 1998 and 1999, the Trojans could have also been called The Invincibles. The team achived the co-No. 1 ranking for this site’s regional rankings alongside Winslow (Maine), as both teams went through the 1998 season unbeaten and unscored upon. Garden City had a good argument of being the top team in the nation alongside a good Escondido San Pasqual (Calif.) team.

Garden City would extend its unscored-upon string of games to 32, which, in the days of grass (the team used the school’s football field) was a remarkable achievement given the nature of field hockey as a low-scoring game where a stout defense is predicated on a number of seemingly random factors.

Chapman announced her retirement earlier this week, after three decades at the helm of the field hockey program, winning seven state championships. She also had a heck of a girls’ lacrosse program, winning 10 state titles in region (Long Island) which has rounded into the single best incubator of girls’ lacrosse talent in the country.

Her Garden City teams often ascended the heights of national rankings. By April 2012, the Trojans were the No. 2 team in the nation according the LaxPower.com computer ratings.

But on April 21, 2012, Garden City took on No. 1 Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) during the Maryland-New York Lacrosse Challenge, but fell by a score of 20-9.

Chapman was gracious after the game, seeing how McDonogh rolled out to a 15-5 margin at one point of the match.

“They’re in a league of their own,” she said after the match. “We’ve played some great teams, but nobody goes at that speed.”

Chapman will slow down her life now that she is going to be on the sidelines. She’s the latest prominent coach who has decided to end her scholastic coaching career. And she’s going to be very much missed.

“I’ve been blessed to have chosen a profession with teaching and coaching sports that I have a passion for,” she tells Long Island Newsday. “I’ve had incredible assistant coaches and we’ve experienced so many incredible moments. They were all different and yet unique. Every success was a fantastic experience with all the different players.”

May 16, 2020 — A start, but then what?

I’ve always thought that the three key elements in terms of bringing people back into greater society are going to be (a) widespread testing for the virus; (b) treatment for people who have gotten sick; and (c) an effective vaccine so that people don’t get the Coronavirus in the first place.

Among sports fans interviewed over the last few days at FiveThirtyEight, the presence and use of an effective vaccine would be the single most important factor in bringing back sports altogether.

This weekend, a couple of North American professional sports are going it alone without a vaccine, with the resumption of horse racing at Santa Anita racetrack in California, and NASCAR holding a race in Darlington, S.C.

The events are going to be held without fans in the stands, which is, I think, going to be the new normal in this entire COVID-19 health crisis. At least, for a while.

Thing is, while there are pro sports like NASCAR, baseball, soccer, and golf planning on going without fans, these are athletic pursuits who, through lucrative sponsorships, turn a profit without selling a single ticket.

That cannot be said for numerous athletic pursuits across the U.S.

American sport is not only a business, but the industry relies on other businesses for maintenance and upkeep. Whether you are in a major coastal city or a small county in the rural South, you are paying taxes for your local stadium, ballpark, or civic center. These can be in the form of the bonds needed for public financing, the roads and plumbing supporting the facility, or a small surtax added onto the price of a ticket.

Without top-level sports, entire small-town economies from Bowie, Md. to Fresno, Calif. are deprived of the income from fans coming to see Division I college football, major and minor league baseball, and the professional women’s sports circuits that dot the summer calendar.

We’ve already lost the FIH Pro League (at least until next year), as well as the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League (same), and it’s hard to compile the damage that is going to happen in both WNBA and NWSL cities.

College sports are their own species. They are are run on such a fine edge that only a handful of NCAA member institutions don’t plunge themselves into debt every year trying to compete with the Alabamas and Penn States of the world.

That’s why the negotiations amongst the “Power Five” conferences with the NCAA regarding the start of the major college football season cannot be ignored.

A month ago, these rich and powerful universities applied for a major rules change within the NCAA, one which affects the requirements for the number of sports each school must compete in, something which cuts at the very core of Title IX as well as the raison d’etre of universities and their role in American education and society.

As such, it will be interesting to see whether college presidents will feed into the narrative that a university is a sports team, not a school conferring degrees.