EMILY TRELSTAD/SAGAMORE STAFF
Stand on the 40-yard line of the Downes Field. It’s 3:20 p.m. and the student-athletes start to arrive. Two speakers compete for the sound space. Cleats storm the pavement and soften as they hit the track and then the turf. Football pads and field hockey bags hit the ground. Practices for both the field hockey and football teams begin.
For the past two years, field hockey and football have had to share Downes Field for practices. On Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, the varsity field hockey game was moved to Fisher Hill, a grass field, as football needed to use Downes to hold their tackle practice. This incident sparked debate over the lack of field space in Brookline and how the Athletic Department treats specific teams in the face of this issue.
Athletic Director Pete Rittenberg said that the reason for having the field hockey game at Fisher Hill was for student safety. Over the long weekend prior to the incident, the football team was not allowed access to their equipment or athletic training space. Therefore, on the Tuesday in question, the team needed to have a tackle practice.
According to Head Athletic Trainer Alex Jzyk, the football teams are not allowed to practice on Cypress because it poses a safety risk to the athletes.
“Three kids were injured in their one practice that they practiced on Cypress,” Jzyk said. “They’re not allowed on Cypress field because of me because it is a safety hazard for them to be on site.”
Rittenberg said this issue should not pit field hockey against football or a girls team against a boys team.
“I realize that the Athletic Department is going to face some frustration from people who may not understand all the constraints that we’re under and we deal with,” Ritternburg said. “But I think that the real story here is it’s a town issue, and it’s not a new one.”
Senior and field hockey captain Kate Staff said she understands the problems with the field but believes the administration has made it seem like an issue of football against field hockey.
“It feels as though we rarely get priority over them, even in the past with my experience playing field hockey throughout high school,” Staff said.
The administration told varsity field hockey coach Emily Hunt that their game was to be played at Fisher Hill because of a safety issue, but she said she found it difficult to explain to her players that a practice was taking priority over their game.
“One of the hard parts to comprehend is how is it safe for one program and not another,” Hunt said.
According to senior Emmy Radin, although it is not as dangerous as football, there are safety concerns with field hockey playing on grass.
“The grass and field at Fisher isn’t flat at all. There’s holes in the ground. It’s a completely different game to be played on grass,” Radin said. “When we had our game the other day against Newton North at Fisher, it was a 0-0 game. Usually when there’s 0-0 games in field hockey it is because [the game] is played on grass, because the ball doesn’t move and you can’t use any of the stick skills that we’ve tried.”
Radin said that the Newton North game was very important to the team, as it would have decided whether or not field hockey made it to playoffs. She said that it is difficult for their team when they are not prioritized, especially as an all-female team.
“You have to implement different things because female athletes are already not treated with the same respect,” Radin said. “Our coach really tries to hype us up and tell us that we’re doing so much better, but it’s hard to believe that when we don’t have the support of the administration. And being second to junior varsity football really degrades us as a varsity team.”
The Newton North team was also greatly disadvantaged by the conditions of the game played on Fisher Hill. According to Newton North varsity field hockey coach Kristina Moore, the athletes were not prepared for the conditions.
“Athletes didn’t have the proper footwear for the surface, leading to many slips and falls. The grass in places was so long and thick the ball was unable to be moved. It was a frustrating, scoreless game. Honestly, it felt like we were being transported back in time,” Moore said.
Regardless, according to varsity football coach Chad Hunte, there is no prioritization of one team over another.
“You can’t make everyone happy,” Hunte said. “We split the field with field hockey, that was never done. Before they would always practice on grass. Until I got there, they never got any turf. So, I wouldn’t say we’re prioritized because we’re still moving to grass when they have games.”
Hunte reiterated that the reason for the change in fields was a safety issue.
“We had no other field to go to to safely perform,” Hunte said. “That’s my thing, it’s a safety concern. The kids’ safety comes first. That’s my number one priority.”
Hunt said that she would like to think this is not a girls versus boys issue but an issue with many different factors like fields, facilities and equipment. At the same time, this game felt like a big blow to her team.
“As a head coach it’s hard to explain that to my girls when we’re working so hard to get better. They have gotten so much better,” Hunt said. “We deserve more than one-fourth of the field and getting bumped.”