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Archive for January 5, 2023

Jan. 5, 2023 — A chilling parallel

In a third of a century of covering field hockey and girls’ and women’s lacrosse, I’ve been lucky to have not seen any of these well-conditioned athletes die on the pitch, even though plenty of hazards abound. Young people are tempted with drugs and alcohol, and are confronted by cars and by invaders with weapons.

When I first started this site, a player from one of the teams in my coverage area was riding in a car along one of those winding roads in the back country, only to be killed in an accident. I would later learn that was the greatest fear of many of the coaches in my area: players of fall sports who were put in charge of cars, or who would suffer depression from the shortening of daylight hours.

This past week, in the wake of the Damar Hamlin situation, Western Mass News interviewed a legendary field hockey coach who went through an ordeal in late 2007. Sherry Webb, who coached at Hatfield Smith Academy (Mass.) for 37 years, recounted a time when one of her student-athletes, Bethany McMeniman, suffered cardiac arrest during a late-season practice.

When you view the footage in the above link, the emotions from 2007 still remain. It has to. You don’t, as a coach, expect to have one of your players die in the middle of an event you’re in charge of at a school.

Webb would coach at Smith only three more years, moving to an assistant coaching position at Mount Holyoke College in 2011, where she has remained ever since.

Given what I know about concussions, commodio cordis, and other injuries involving stick-and-ball games, it’s truly remarkable that we have not had a death on the field in a field hockey or lacrosse game in the last 33 years of my career covering these two sports.

Mind you, we’ve had some situations that we’ve learned about regarding multiple head injuries on the part of goalies. I especially cringe when I see field hockey goalies who lie down or “log” for penalty corners and let the ball hit them on the helmet. It’s my hope that the next generation of field hockey headgear is able to be engineered to dampen blows from a hard ball traveling 80 miles an hour, or, for that matter, blows from sticks going for rebounds in close.

There are, unfortunately, tragic outcomes which could happen in the games young women play. And the regrettable thing is that the imposition of eyewear and headwear mask the risks. There are more mortal risks from the ball hitting a player in the chest during a vulnerable point in the heart cycle.

Which, as we saw last Monday, no type of padding is going to prevent.