Field hockey continues on historic track in Massachusetts, and could have debut of boys’ teams this fall

The MIAA is “cautiously optimistic” that a few boys’ field hockey teams may emerge in the 2022-23 school year.

Sherry Bryant, MIAA associate director, shared the news with athletic directors and officials during Thursday’s virtual field hockey committee meeting. Massachusetts would become the first state in the country to field sports at the high school level, earning the attention of USA Field Hockey, the sport’s governing body, and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS.)

Boys’ field hockey was first proposed by the field hockey committee in 2020, in a 7-on-7 format, after spirited debate over boys who were playing on some of the state’s top teams. In the last year that the MIAA tracked data, 2019-20 (pre-pandemic), there were 41 boys playing on girls’ teams (and 7,643 girls), the most prominent being 2019 Division 1 champion Somerset Berkley

The new sport was approved by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Council last May. While no teams emerged for last fall, the MIAA said Thursday it had been in discussions with several schools that are trying to get organized for this fall.

Benefits exist for the schools that decide to be boys’ field hockey pioneers: USA Field Hockey has offered equipment and staff to work with new teams. Doing so is in the governing body’s best interest, as it looks to grow its elite men’s program.

Bryant also shared that Pennsylvania is eagerly watching the steps the MIAA is taking, hoping to eventually follow the lead.

The committee also discussed the sheer growth the statewide tournament provided the sport. Tournament attendance was up 87 percent, and the crowd for the Division 1 final between Andover and Walpole was more than the two 2019 state finals combined.

The committee agreed that the power rankings worked well for field hockey. In three of the four divisions, the tournament’s round of eight involved the top eight seeds, and the other (Division 3) still involved teams within the top 10 of the rankings.

“It was a spot on,” Bryant said.

In other news. . .

▪ Last year’s tournament was impacted by the unavailability of college venues. In past years, Worcester Polytechnic Institute hosted state championship games. However, COVID-19 restrictions kept many colleges from hosting outside events in the fall. In response, field hockey moved the neutral site rounds of the tournament to high school venues – and crowds responded favorably.

The committee now has to make the hard decision for fall 2022: return to high school sites or follow the lead of other sports and return to college venues? The benefit to a set college venue for the state title games is that it allows for a season-long buildup, like what football has with its “Road to Gillette.” Committee members also expressed concern that if field hockey stayed at high school sites while other sports returned to college venues, there could be an issue of equity.

In the coming weeks, committee members will be reaching out to coaches for input on the matter, with a May 13 deadline for feedback.

▪ Several rules were also discussed Thursday.

The committee moved to specify that officials assigned to postseason games must have worked at least seven regular-season varsity games that fall. Also, the penalty for going out of order in the shootout will also be stated within the tournament guidelines after it came up during last fall’s action.

In terms of regular-season play, the committee discussed points where the committee would like to deviate from NFHS rules in terms of unused timeouts carrying over to overtime and total game length.

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