BY MICHAEL J. RUDOLF
Field hockey is traditionally thought of as a girls’ sport. At Elk Lake, however, boys are making a major impact.
The numbers are so significant that Warriors’ coach Heidi English was quoted in a recent USA Today article about the increasing number of male players.
According to English, there are eight boys on the 28-player roster, including seven of the 11 starters. (There had been nine boys until one moved away earlier this season.)
“I just never realized how rare we were,” English said, commenting on the national attention she and the team received. “It’s more common for there to be one or two (boys).”
The Warriors’ roster this year includes senior Johnny Cron; juniors Dylan Simmons, John Krieg, Paul Cron and Trevor Gowin, sophomores C.J. Bevin and Luke Myers; and freshman Dakotah Sherman.
English, who is in her fourth year as coach, said many of the boys have come out for field hockey because Elk Lake doesn’t have a football team.
“Really, there are not many choices,” she said.
Simmons is one of those who said he likes being part of a team where the action can get physical.
He said when he started playing, he wasn’t sure how it would be playing on a team with girls.
“I tried it. It was a little weird,” he said.
He has since become accustomed to the situation.
“This is my third year on the team, so it’s kind of common for me,” he said.
Simmons soon encouraged other boys at school to join him on the team, and even more have successfully tried out since then.
Johnny Cron also started playing field hockey because of Elk Lake’s lack of a football program. He finds the sport exciting.
“It’s fun. You can score and you get to play hard,” he said.
For the most part, the response to boys on the team has been positive. English said the team has the support of school administrators and the home fans who attend the games, and the girls on the team also welcome their male counterparts.
“Overall, the girls really like it. It makes us a competitor,” English said.
“They like us. They think it’s nice to have guys on the team,” added Simmons.
Almost all of the negative reaction comes from opposing teams and their fans.
Other coaches realize that allowing boys to play is permitted under PIAA rules, English said, but they don’t like it.
“Coaches are afraid the boys are going to hurt the other players,” she said.
English said their fears are unfounded, because she and her assistant coaches have worked with the boys to teach them control.
But while opposing coaches voice their concerns civilly, English and the male players say the same isn’t true of the team members.
“I think that a lot of teams smack-talk to them,” English said.
“The girls on the other teams get mad,” Simmons commented.
On occasion, he said the girls swear at the boys, although not loud enough for the referees to hear. That only occurs when Elk Lake is winning, he added.
“Nothing happens when they win,” Simmons said.
Most of the players just take the comments in stride, Cron said. He said he rarely gets cursed at himself because of his size.
“They don’t really pick on me because I’m like 6-2, 220,” he said.
When he does hear a comment, Cron said he responds in kind.
“I yell back at them. I’m the only one who says anything back,” he said.
Crowds at away games can be especially nasty, English stated.
For example, she recalled a match at Berwick where that school’s football team stopped to watch the competition after their practice was done.
“The most inappropriate things were coming out of their mouths,” she said.
Because the National Collegiate Athletic Association does not have men’s field hockey programs and males aren’t permitted to play on women’s teams, high school is as far as it goes for most of the boys.
Simmons, however, is looking for other options.
“I enjoy field hockey and I’m going to play it any way I can,” he said.
While playing in college is not an option, there are high-level amateur programs that compete on the national and international levels, Simmons explained. He said he has been invited to try out for the junior Olympic squad for under-19 players in the spring. He is also being considered for an travelling amateur team that may be forming in the Binghamton area.
Cron, on the other hand, isn’t looking to keep playing field hockey next year. He said he wants to try playing football when he gets to college.