It’s getting so you really can’t tell the players without a scorecard. A decade ago many Americans feared the republic would crumble if girls were allowed to play Little League baseball. Now diamonds are girls’ best friends, and this year a record number of female athletes have tried out for high school football teams. Agonized jock traditionalists are quick to raise a terrifying prospect: What’s to keep boys from going out for girls’ teams?
Nothing, it turns out, at least at Northampton High School in Massachusetts. When five male seniors joined the Blue Devils varsity girls’ field hockey team this fall, even principal Dr. Gordon Noseworthy, 44, a strong advocate of coed physical education, had qualms. “Boys in skirts playing a traditional girls’ sport—that’s heady stuff for a town of 30,000 people.”
But the citizenry has remained calm, and at the school’s sports kick-off assembly, where the varsity teams appear onstage in full uniform, the boys in skirts drew a prolonged ovation. “Our school is really receptive to things like that,” explains field hockey co-captain Victoria Stone, 16. “We think it’s really cool having guys on the team.”
“We just try to concentrate on the game,” says senior Richard Pushkin, 17, who with classmates Kenneth Campbell, Craig Hayward, Craig Kirouac and Alan Wolf, first learned the sport in a coed gym class. “There’s no segregation on our team at all. We do everything the same.” (There are, however, separate locker rooms.)
The boys didn’t even skirt the issue of field hockey attire. After a discussion among themselves, they announced at a team meeting that they would wear the traditional team uniform, including a blue, yellow and white plaid kilt. “We thought it was great when they decided to wear the skirts,” says co-captain Deborah Mansfield, 17. “It would have made them stand out if they had worn shorts. This way, they blend right in.” “It felt a little funny at first,” admits Pushkin, “but we all got used to it really quickly. I haven’t heard a single comment from anyone at school. We heard some heckling [from male fans of the opposing team] at the South Hadley game, but the girls just told us to ignore it.”
Three of the boys are on the 11-person starting team. But everybody gets to play, and the girls—delighted with three victories in their first four games—aren’t complaining. (Last year the Blue Devils won only one of 13 games.) The boys do seem to have an edge in speed and stamina, but those advantages are offset by their relative inexperience. “In field hockey, it’s all skill and finesse,” says Stone.
“The girls are much better than we are,” agrees Pushkin. “They’re just as competitive as the guys, if not more so. It’s rough sometimes, but it’s a great sport. I’d like to tell any guys with inhibitions about playing coed sports to go for it.” Just remember that when you suit up, fellas, you’re dressing for success.