Opinion: Field Hockey Forced off the Field

At the first league game played without senior captain, Colin Ives, the Hackley Varsity Field Hockey team won 7-1 against Horace Mann. We wore caution tape in our hair for every game following the ruling. This was a commentary on the league’s position of Colin as a ‘hazardous’ player.

I stared at my phone in disbelief. It was two days before the beginning of our competitive field hockey season, but our team leader and teammate of five years had been forced off the field, and every woman on the team had been told by leaders that we are not strong enough to be on the same field as men.

On September 27th, 2021, team captain and senior Colin Ives sent a text to the field hockey group chat saying that the seven heads of school in the Ivy League made a decision in a two-minute conference call that would prohibit him from playing the sport he loves.

Although he is a boy, Colin was able to play on the field hockey team for three years under the New York State Mixed Competition Law. This law essentially protects the rights of individuals who want to play on a sports team that is predominantly played by the other gender (ie: field hockey, football, wrestling).

Any student wanting to exercise this right must undergo a medical exam and be approved by the head of athletics, athletic trainer, and a physician. Seven heads of schools (four of whom do not have a field hockey team) made the decision to take away Ives’ right to play and in the process undermined these professional opinions.

From that day forward, our team mantra, the line “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose,” from Friday Night Lights took on a new meaning. Now every time we stepped on the field we had to overcome the anger and sadness that the Poly Prep, Fieldston, Horace Mann, Riverdale, Trinity, Collegiate, and Dalton heads of schools imparted on our team.

“It was an abuse of power that the heads of schools have; they won’t talk to us, and they won’t even talk to their own players.” said senior field hockey captain Kaitlyn Qu.

“When I, Mr. Wirtz, or my mom [Ms. Leffler] reached out to the heads of the Ivy League with questions we got no response. They can’t even justify their actions.” Colin said, referring to efforts by Head of School Mike Wirtz and Head Coach Jenny Leffler to speak to the other heads of school.

“The response I’ve gotten from Ivy League players has been overwhelmingly positive. It just makes it clear that this decision was made without the opinion of their players. In our game against Horace Mann, a parent came over to me and said ‘it’s not fair what’s happening to you and our team does not believe this is fair.” said Colin.

“They cited a case from 1996 that set the precedent to do what they did, which never actually happened. They said that there was a safety concern for the other players playing,” said Colin.

The clause that has stopped Colin from playing states, “When the physical abilities of the individual are deemed by the panel to be short of or exceed the physical abilities of other team members, thereby creating a hazardous condition or unfair advantage for that student or other members of the team, denial of participation would be appropriate.” However, Colin does not fit this description.

“One of our players has just as powerful a drive as Colin and has less control over it,” Kaitlyn said.

The flaws in this clause also extend to the point that his physical abilities “exceed” those of other team members. There have been multiple female students in the past four years who have gone on to play at Division 1 schools for field hockey- and there has never been a single issue raised over them posing an ‘unfair advantage’.

“The Ivy league heads are basically just telling every girl that goes to their school that girls are physically inferior to boys, which is not true, and everyone knows is not true, but that’s the message that they’re sending which is embarrassing,” said Colin. Kaitlyn said, “Stop telling girls they have no chance against boys. That’s what the heads of school are saying.”

By simply clicking on any of these Ivy League schools’ websites one finds multiple claims that they support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in their mission statements. Horace Mann claims to “measure inclusivity by the degree to which people of all backgrounds, people of all perspectives and people of all beliefs have an equal opportunity to contribute, to belong and to achieve within the community,” in their mission statement. Fieldston claims that they ‘value inclusion’ and even include ‘ethical culture’ in their name. Riverdale states that they include ‘the impact of gender socialization’ and ‘challenging gender stereotypes’ in their curriculum.

Yet, at this moment each of these schools is signaling that we are inherently unable to compete against a talented boy simply because we are girls. That is NOT teaching equity, inclusion, belonging, or equality.

“In 2021 I think what they’re doing is totally wrong; you can’t have a seemingly progressive private school’s leader be someone that thinks half of their student body is inferior to the other half,” said Colin.

Another issue this raises is if going forward, other boys will be prohibited from competing in a sport they love.

“More and more boys are joining field hockey; there are middle school boys joining field hockey with the expectation that they are going to be able to play,” said Kaitlyn “They shouldn’t have to be thinking that if they get too good at a sport they aren’t going to be able to play.”

“I put in five years of hard work in a sport just for someone to tell me I’m too good, I feel bad for anyone who’s gonna put in the time just for people to tell them that they can’t play the sport they’ve been playing for their whole life,” said Colin.

Over the season our team grew stronger, we were bonded by the feelings of injustice, and each game, we stepped on the field to beat the team, their head of school, the Ivy League, and every person who doubted our’s and every other girl in the league’s ability to play against Colin.

The Hackley community was overwhelmingly supportive of our team, whether that be by reposting our thoughts on Instagram, supporting us at games, or proudly holding a sign on the sideline.

“We have so much support from our community, dean, coaches, and administrators but [the Ivy League] made this decision against us, against our team, and against Colin.” said senior captain Ameera Shaban.

“Thinking about the community we built on the field hockey team after this, nobody can take that away from us,” said Colin.

After a season of enduring enormous resistance, on October 29th Ms. Leffler looked into each player’s eyes, with tears filling her own, and told us that every team except for us had pulled out of the NYSAIS tournament. Each team scratched from the contest as Colin would have been able to participate, and Rye Country Day backed out for an undisclosed reason. Our last hope of playing as a complete team was stolen from us, and we had now all been halted from playing our beloved sport.

So now I ask-does the Ivy League truly believe what they did propounded justice, inclusion, and a level playing field; because in my eyes all they did was rob a group of 26 students from getting to play together one last time.