Not Your Average Skirt Chaser

November 26, 2001

The strongest high school field hockey player in all of western
Massachusetts stands 6'5", weighs 205 pounds and would look
better in his skirt if he shaved his legs. His name is Ryan
Sherburne, and he led Mohawk Trail Regional High in Shelburne
Falls to the state semifinals this year. Problem is, he's not
within a RuPaul chorus line of being a girl.

Bigger and faster than a Chrysler minivan, Ryan, 17, has a slap
shot that nearly separated a few girls from their sports bras
this year. And people are mad about it. "What's it gonna take--a
girl being seriously hurt?" asks Longmeadow High coach Ann
Simons. "Parents could sue me for having their kids out there."

One of Ryan's shots doubled over a girl on an opposing team,
forcing her to the sideline. When Ryan's father, Bill, asked her
coach if the girl's stomach felt better, the coach snarled,
"Stomach? Put it this way: If your son was hit where she got hit,
he'd still be lying on the field."

There have been a lot of snarls in Ryan's direction, and he has
heard them all.

Football field is that way, Bubba.

Pick on somebody your own size!

Hey, sweetheart, you free after the game?

"It doesn't bother me," says Ryan, a senior midfielder who first
tried field hockey five years ago while rehabbing from a knee
injury. "I just play, and people can say what they want."

They're saying a lot. Parents are worried about their daughters'
safety. Mothers on opposing sidelines have screamed, "Kill him!
Knock him on his ass!"

"It gets to the point where I don't want him going to the
bathroom by himself," says Mohawk Trail coach Lynn Hoeppner. "To
hear adults taunt a kid.... Hard to believe. I say let everyone
play."

Fine. But does Ryan have to play with girls? "He loves the game,"
says Bill, "and there's nowhere else to play."

Ryan isn't the only one. Seven of the 21 field hockey teams in
western Massachusetts had at least one boy on their rosters this
season. Two of the last three Division I state champs have
started boys. Amherst-Pelham Regional High's jayvee girls were
led by 5'10", 220-pound former football lineman Bradley Bell,
who's a freshman and should play on the varsity next year.
Longmeadow High freshman Maria Koenigs, who's about the size of a
parking meter, came home in tears after a game against Bell. "I
was scared," she says, "and I don't think he has a right to come
into our game and make us scared. Besides, what self-respecting
guy would wear a skirt to play a game?"

Not only is Ryan unashamed to wear the Warriors' pleated plaid
skirt on the field--even in front of his girlfriend--but he also
wears it to school on game days, as do all his teammates.

Opposing coach: C'mon, girls. I'll bet he puts his skirt on two
legs at a time, just like you do!

Boys are a problem that's whittling away at the fabric of field
hockey in Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania. "Playing with
boys is awful!" one girl wrote on an Internet field hockey site.
"When you win, people think it's only because of the boys on your
team. It's so defeating."

For feminists it's a nasty little issue. For one thing the reason
Ryan can play is that Massachusetts has an equal rights amendment
in its constitution.

Eight years ago the state's Superior Court ruled that the
amendment applied to athletics. That meant boys could not be
barred from playing on girls' teams. Even though field hockey is
as male as jock itch everywhere else in the world, the U.S. has
zero boys' high school teams. "We lost in court so many times,"
says Paul Wetzel of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic
Association, which appealed the court ruling, "that we gave up.
[The decision] doesn't make sense, but there's nothing we can
do."

Of course a judge's allowing it doesn't make it right. True,
girls play on some teams in boys' sports, but they don't
fundamentally change those sports. Ryan Sherburne changes the
girls' game, as does Brad Bell.

These parents must have half a brain to permit their hulking
teenage piles of testosterone to go out in half a dress and whomp
on girls half their size. Yeah, they have the constitutional
right to do so, but not the moral right. The next dad who allows
it gets a field hockey shot right where it hurts.

And that ain't the stomach.

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA

Bigger and faster than a minivan, he has a slap shot that has
nearly separated girls from their bras.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)