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May 6, 2020 — Another loss for the field hockey and girls’ lacrosse communities

Remember this?

Yesterday, it was announced that Baltimore Institute of Notre Dame (Md.), one of the longest-serving all-girls’ prep schools in the country, would be closing its doors at the end of the academic year.

Amongst the casualties are the field hockey and girls’ lacrosse teams at the school, both of which competed in the “C” Flight of the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland.

The IAAM is the nation’s most high-profile lacrosse conference, and, to be fair, the decade of the 2010s were unkind to IND. The team finished at or near the bottom of the conference table every year except for a fourth-place finish in the “B” Flight in 2013. That year, the team made the postseason semifinals only to fall to The Park School of Baltimore (Md.).

The end of the decade saw the Institute finish with one season in conference play for the last three seasons, and the team was reassigned to the “C” Flight for the 2020 season. This year’s outfit team showed signs of insurrection in a 12-12 draw with The Catholic High School of Baltimore (Md.). But that game was held March 12th, only a couple of days before the nation underwent its COVID-19 quarantine, which continues, more or less, to this day.

For this girls’ lacrosse group, it would have been interesting to see what they could have done in their new conference, but the closing of the school is going to, regrettably, leave that a mystery.

 

 

May 3, 2020 — No easy answers

Over the weekend, a ruling came from a California judge nullifying a number of the counts in the U.S. women’s soccer team’s lawsuit against U.S. Soccer in its fight for equal pay.

It is a ruling which has confounded many observers of the sports landscape, chiefly because the ruling has left a portion of the allegations in place but stripped out others.

It is an action which has rankled many who see the lawsuit as a gender equity issue and that there’s no reason that U.S. Soccer shouldn’t be found at fault for its inequalities over the years.

The decision, however, takes a practical and utilitarian approach to the issue, pointing out that the men’s and women’s soccer teams negotiated different contracts rather than equal contracts.

That’s fair.

But there are still inequalities having to do with charter flights, staff, and travel which still have to be dealt with. If negotiators can create the right linkage between these issues and issues having to deal with player salary structure, this is still very much a winnable case. After all, the U.S. women’s team is coming off a dominant performance at the 2019 Women’s World Cup and is a prime favorite to medal in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics despite missing out on the podium altogether in Rio.

And, most importantly,  the new president of the U.S. Soccer Federation is one Cindy Parlow Cone. She was the left wing for the U.S. women’s team on July 10, 1999 when they played China in the third Women’s World Cup final.

Somehow, I think this lawsuit is going to be settled before a trial is called.

May 2, 2020 — A partnership borne out of conflict

It was announced two days ago that USA Field Hockey and the National Federation of State High School Associations — a pair of sports bodies which were involved in a low-grade war the last 10 years — were entering into a partnership to try to increase participation in the sport.

Though there have been a certain amount of inputs from USA Field Hockey in the rulesmaking of the National Federation, the USFHA was not able to stop the imposition of mandatory eyewear in the scholastic game at the beginning of the decade of the 2010s. Nor was it able to get the NFHS to adopt The Rules of Hockey, although the differences between rules packages have been streamlined somewhat in the last quarter-century.

But it seems as though, for the purposes of the partnership, it is worth it for both parties to try to build participation in the game nationwide, as well as to certify junior coaches and umpires, and to create starter kits (similar to what has been in place for years for lacrosse) for states/conferences which do not have the sport.

This partnership comes less than two years after Dr. Karissa Niehoff was named as President of the National Federation. Niehoff played her scholastic field hockey at Marblehead (Mass.) before matriculating to the University of Massachusetts.

I think it’s a great opportunity; but let’s see the results, given some of the failed initiatives of the past.

May 1, 2020 — What might scholastic girls’ lacrosse look like in 2021?

In the last couple of days, the State of New York declared that all public schools would be closed for the remainder of the academic year. And with that, the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association cancelled all of the rest of its games and championships which had not already been cancelled.

That puts New York in with Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, and numerous other states or commonwealths which have called off interscholastic competition for the spring of 2020.

In most areas of the country, interscholastic play had not even begun before orders to close schools and end sports for the season.

This leaves an interesting situation for the players left behind — the classes of 2021, 2022, and 2023 who will be filling roster slots next spring. Most of the players in these classes nationwide have never played a scholastic girls’ contest under the new National Federation rules package allowing free movement.

Too, the members of the Class of 2020 (except for warm-weather states) will have to go into their college seasons without a single competitive varsity contest where free movement is the rule. It is going to be a tremendous adjustment for current high-school seniors heading into college without a full senior season.

I project that there will be a number of people who will still reflexively stop in place when the umpire blows every whistle; unshackling players from the original rules is, I believe, going to take some time.

But the Covid-19 cancellation of the 2020 season also delays any kind of evaluations by players, coaches, and umpires as to the efficacy of certain rules, meaning that further rules changes in the scholastic realm (carding rules and the possession clock chief among them) could be further delayed.

Let’s see what happens.

April 30, 2020 — Another set of casualties

The contagion that is the COVID-19 virus has had tremendous human, social, and economic costs.

There have been nearly a quarter-million people killed worldwide. The U.S. is in its worst economic recession since the Great Depression nearly 100 years ago.

Entertainment has been relegated to video and the internet. Restaurants have had to change their business models in order to survive. Other businesses have closed.

Amongst those businesses: private schools, some of which offered field hockey and lacrosse to their student populace.

There have been nearly a dozen reported nationwide, including, just this week, the first school closing in the history of the Lancaster-Lebanon League, as Lebanon (Pa.) Catholic decided to close permanently.

Another school which has had a successful recent history in field hockey is Hammonton St. Joseph’s (N.J.), which won three sectional championships in a four-year span from 2010 to 2013, each time losing the state final to Summit Oak Knoll (N.J.).

St. Joseph’s had a number of fine players, including Megan DeMarco, who scored 126 goals in her career. But head coach John DeMarco, her father, left the school to coach Absecon Holy Spirit (N.J.). Last fall, the Wildcats posted a 3-14-3 record, scoring a mere six goals on the season.

The school’s closing does not only affect the field hockey team, but other sports such as basketball and football at the school, which have been wildly successful.

Another school relatively nearby St. Joseph’s is Wildwood (N.J.) Catholic, whose boys’ basketball graded out as the sixth best in New Jersey before the pandemic shut down the New Jersey Tournament of Champions.

There have been other schools which have chosen to close their doors after long service to the public. In Lawton, Okla., St. Mary’s Catholic is closing its doors after 113 years. Lebanon Catholic had been open for 161 years, and St. Joseph’s for 78 years.

These are institutions with long histories, thousands of alumni/ae, and a long legacy in education. But against a historic threat through the pandemic, just about any kind of institution is at risk these days, even essential ones like schooling.

And for the students, it’s disheartening.

 

April 27, 2020 — Another couple of field hockey retirements

The 2020 field hockey offseason has already seen one major field hockey retirement, with the departure of Voorhees Eastern (N.J.) coach Danyle Heilig, she of the 21 straight state championships with the Vikings.

We’ve gotten wind of a couple of other pretty significant retirements. Cheryl Silva mentored some incredibly smart women as head coach of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for 29 years, making the NCAA quarterfinal round last fall. The Engineers lost in the tournament to eventual runner-up Franklin & Marshall.

But there’s another retirement of great significance. Former U.S. international Don Warner is leaving the field hockey coaching position at Richmond St. Catherine’s (Va.) after a quarter-century. Warner is not just a great coach, but a man who wears his love for the game on his sleeve.

Warner has given his life to the game, whether it has been coach at St. Catherine’s and with the U.S. senior women’s indoor national team, or playing for the United States Over-50 senior national team.

I think his best St. Catherine’s team may have been his 2000 side, when future national-team pool members Natalie and Alexis Martirosian were seniors. During their season-opener against Alexandria St. Stephen’s-St. Agnes (Va.), the skilled twins were magnificent in beating their northern Virginia rivals.

In the days when I still used a tape recorder, I asked Warner a question, using a metaphor comparing their exhibition to working out on a training ground, such was the ease by which the Saints had used their speed and passing.

“Above all,” he said when answering the question, “we respect our opponents.”

I have never forgotten that, seeing as it had only been five years earlier when the opposing team from St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes had gone through its field hockey season undefeated and unscored-upon.

It was a subtle message for me as a journalist: high-school sports are an environment where a team can be in the penthouse one year, and in the cellar the next, such are the vagaries of not only attendance, but the quality of player attending school from one year to the next.

April 25, 2020 — Three field sports, three responses

We wrote earlier this month about the closure of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy, a competition which was intended to raise the level of U-19 competition nationwide. But the DA took away thousands of young people away from their high-school teams and, critics charged, turned out players who were not ready for the next level, as exemplified by the failure of the U-23 men’s national team to qualify for Rio 2016 and London 2012, and the senior men’s national team to qualify for Russia 2018.

The worldwide Coronavirus pandemic has stopped youth soccer games and has cancelled the Olympic Development Program (ODP), the direct pipeline for the U.S. youth men’s and women’s national team camps for next year.

The Coronavirus has also affected youth programs in field hockey and lacrosse. The Futures program for USA Field Hockey has gone to a completely on-line program.

“Our goal is to be ready to resume delivery of on-field programming in a revised format as soon as it is safe to do so,” said a USA Field Hockey release earlier this spring.

A long-term plan is for USA Field Hockey to push back its Futures Tournament into mid-July in Virginia Beach. But for that to happen, regional camps will have to be held in various places across the U.S.

But that all depends on when state governments, through state and federal public health guidelines, relax regulations on public gatherings.

One major women’s lacrosse summer tournament organizer, the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches’ Association, came out one week ago with a statement announcing the full cancellation of its entire slate of girls’ lacrosse tournaments through the summer, with full refunds to participants.

The same day, however, Corrigan Sports — the ILWCA’s partner in running these events — announced that the tournaments would go on as scheduled, but without ILWCA involvement.

There is a significant reason for the uncertainty of these tournaments. That’s because another organization, Live Love Lax, has scheduled a tournament in Florida the same November weekend as the scheduled President’s Cup, which is also in Florida.

Of course, we won’t know for some time when Florida will have its quarantine lifted, but what we do know is that the vista of youth sports is going to be altered forever. I have a feeling that a number of the current businesses that help run or promote youth events are going to fall the way of the Development Academy.