Mary Beth Bourgoin knows she is in the minority among her fellow coaches when it comes to the mandate for Maine high school field hockey players to wear protective goggles.

“It’s a topic I go back and forth with,” said Bourgoin, who has been coaching Winslow High’s field hockey team since 2006. “I know there have been injuries caused by the goggles. But I also know there have been injuries saved by the goggles.”

She’s seen both happen just this year in the preseason. During one scrimmage, a Winslow player got hit square in the goggles by a stick. She was not injured. In a later scrimmage, two players collided. The opposing player’s goggles rammed into the Winslow player’s head, causing her to have a concussion, according to Bourgoin. The opposing player was also injured, suffering a cut.

“There’s a lot of controversy over this,” said Bourgoin. “And I get where the others are coming from. … I just think it’s safer (to wear goggles).”

Maine is one of just three states that require high field hockey players to wear goggles, in an effort to reduce catastrophic eye injuries. Players and coaches, however, say that the goggles restrict peripheral vision and can lead to collisions and injuries in a fast-paced sport.

In 2020, the National Federation of State High School Associations – the governing body for interscholastic sports across the nation – revised its rules, no longer requiring field hockey players to wear goggles. Instead, the NFHS is giving players the option to wear goggles.

“Even in states that don’t require goggles now, there are still kids wearing goggles on the field of play,” said Julie Cochran, the NFHS Director of Sport. “We simply wanted them to have that option.”

The Maine Principals’ Association, however, is not providing that option. Instead, Maine – along with Massachusetts and Rhode Island – is still requiring its field hockey players to wear the goggles. The 13 other states that offer field hockey are following the national rules and making it optional.

Dr. William Heinz, chairman of the MPA’s Sports Medicine Committee, served on the national federation’s medical advisory board when it mandated the use of goggles in 2011. He said safety is the only factor the principals’ association is considering when requiring its players to continue to wear the goggles.

“We have a way to protect those girls and we’re going to do it,” said Heinz. “We’re not going to back down on that as long as I’m chair of the (MPA’s) Sports Medicine Committee.”

Players don’t hide their feelings about the mandate.

“I personally don’t like the goggles,” said Gorham sophomore midfielder Hannah Bickford, who recently was one of three Mainers to play in the U.S. Field Hockey NexUS championships. “I feel it’s a barricade to seeing where the ball is.”

Gorham High field hockey players celebrate a goal by Hannah Bickford (No. 1, center) during a Sept. 20 game against Falmouth. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

In the fall of 2019, the most recent year for participation data, 2,054 girls played high school field hockey in Maine. Seventy-seven teams are playing the sport this fall across the state.

MAINE TOOK EARLY LEAD ON GOGGLES

While the national federation mandated the use of goggles in 2011, Maine was already at the forefront of the issue. In 1999, a Marshwood High freshman suffered a catastrophic eye injury when she was hit in the face by a teammate’s stick during a drill before a game. Soon thereafter, Marshwood players began wearing wire-framed goggles, similar to those worn in lacrosse.

In 2007, Maine was one of several states to mandate the wearing of goggles. And it was Heinz who pushed for the national federation to do the same, while serving as chairman of its sports medicine advisory board at the time.

“I was one who pushed to get goggles mandated (nationally),” said Heinz. “I said, ‘This is not going to happen again, not on my watch.’ It is a preventable injury. Your eyes are very vulnerable.

“Field hockey people want to argue that with me. They say it doesn’t happen. It does. You’re talking about playing on an irregular surface, players who are not tremendously skilled. It happens.”

Cochran said there were several reasons that went into the national federation’s decision to reverse course and make goggles optional.

One was regarding safety standards. While the goggles may meet the safety standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials, they were not meeting the much more stringent standards of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment.

Another concern, she said, was that goggles were not made for players with prescription eyewear. Those players were often having to get waivers from state associations to play, sometimes wearing plastic lab goggles over their prescription glasses. And that, said Cochran, “is obviously not ideal.”

Greely’s Emma Nadeau, left, and Freeport’s Ava Gervais chase down the ball during a field hockey game on Sept. 15. Staff Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Third, she said, there is no significant data that shows the goggles have reduced the number of eye injuries, especially catastrophic injuries.

The national federation relies on the High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study, otherwise known as the High School RIO report, for injury data. The RIO Report is compiled on information gathered from athletic trainers across the country.

According to its reports since the 2011 passage of the goggles mandate, there has not been a significant increase in head/face injuries. In 2011, there were 34 head-face injuries reported for field hockey, or 25.4 percent of all field hockey injuries. In 2018, the last year for which the RIO Report is available, there were 29 head/face injuries, or 24.2 percent of all field hockey injuries. Those numbers were consistent during the years of the national mandate for goggles.

Of note, there were 42 head/face injuries in 2010, the year before the goggles were mandated.

“I’ve spent a lot of time researching this issue and I’m really torn,” said Donna Jordan, a former longtime field hockey coach who is the liaison to the MPA’s field hockey committee. “I come from a time when we never wore goggles. It was always safe to play if the skills were taught correctly. The chances of injury were minimal. It doesn’t mean injuries didn’t occur. They did.

“I guess the question is, ‘If we take the goggles away, is it safe for the athletes?’ That’s something we’ve got to figure.”

‘IT DEFINITELY OBSTRUCTS YOUR VISION’

Given the choice, most players would take off the goggles. As it is, those players who compete for club travel teams don’t have to wear them for those competitions. Nor do they have to wear them for U.S. Field Hockey events. Nor do college or international teams wear the goggles.

Biddeford senior forward Jayme Walton understands why the goggles are worn. But she too wishes she could play without wearing them.

“The goggles protect your eyes but it definitely obstructs your vision too, especially when you’re bringing the ball up the field,” she said. “You’re trying to look up, and there’s that spot on the goggles that blocks your vision.”

It is a metal bar, placed on the goggles to prevent a field hockey stick from fitting in the gap around the eyes.

Biddeford High senior Jayme Walton says, “The goggles protect your eyes but it definitely obstructs your vision too, especially when you’re bringing the ball up the field.” Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Falmouth senior defender Megan Sauberlich said the glare from the sun off the bars can be blinding. But, she added, “I feel more secure and more able to go towards the ball when I have them on.”

Her teammate, senior midfielder Mia Wrisley, is indifferent to the goggles. She said it takes a day or two at the beginning of preseason camp to adjust to them, but that otherwise, “I don’t notice it.”

Coaches and players stress that the goggles restrict peripheral vision, making it difficult for the girls to see the entire field. That often results in collisions. Field hockey players are also taught to keep their heads up when dribbling the ball upfield, but if they have a blind spot, they cannot. That, too, sometimes results in collisions.

“I can’t wait to get rid of the goggles,” said Mt. Ararat coach Krista Chase. “I’ve witnessed so many concussions because of the goggles. I really think it’s time we make a change. I’m very much about the health and safety of the players, but I see goggles as a detriment to their safety.”

Heinz disagrees, pointing to a 2015 study – titled “Eye Protection and Risk of Eye Injuries in High School Field Hockey” – that showed a significant decrease in eye or orbital bone injuries when wearing goggles. The study noted “a 3-fold reduction in the rate of eye/orbital injuries, without significantly increasing frequency of player-player contact head and facial injuries, including concussion.”

“It’s been critically looked at before and after (the 2011) mandate was put in place,” said Heinz. “There’s no increase in injuries following the mandate for wearing goggles.”

What the coaches prefer instead of goggles, and what the new national federation rule allows, is the use of face shields on penalty corners. It is considered, said the NFHS’ Cochran, “the most dangerous play in the sport,” a situation where an offensive player has the opportunity to line up a shot and hit it as hard as she can. Defenders rush the shooter, with the ball often whizzing past them, or hitting them.

The face shields cannot be worn with the goggles, which is why the MPA Bulletin notes “Penalty Corner masks are not allowed to be worn.”

Cochran said the conversation about penalty corner face shields is just beginning. Some states are allowing them to be worn throughout the game, others are forcing them to be discarded once the penalty corner has ended.

“There are a lot of discussions about that going on now,” she said. “We’re going to follow them closely.”

Coaches and players stress that rule changes limiting how high the ball can be struck and advances in technology, especially in the form of artificial surfaces, have made the game safer. And, they note, the skill level is improving each year.

Gorham’s Eleanor Szostalo and Falmouth’s Emerson Roy battle for position during a field hockey game last week. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“It’s a crisper, cleaner game than is was 20 years ago,” said Chase. “The girls have more skills. I think we’ve got to trust that.”

But, some coaches note, there is a difference in the skill level between high school and college players, who don’t wear goggles.

“Knowing the skill that some of our girls have, they’re not elite players,” said Winslow High’s Bourgoin. “I think it’s safer (to wear goggles).”

Freeport coach Marcia Wood said she would follow whatever rule the Maine Principals’ Association has. But, she added, “In high school, the game is not as controlled as it is at some of the (NCAA Division I) programs. There’s more of that chance of making that slight mistake that could cause an injury.”

Veteran field hockey official Denise Morin knows exactly what Wood is talking about. She was officiating a game recently when a player got hit in the goggles with a hard hit. She was stunned, but not seriously injured.

“I told her, ‘That’s exactly why we’re wearing goggles,'” said Morin. “She would have either had a broken nose or something worse. She certainly would have been hospitalized.

“In my opinion, it’s better to be safe than sorry.”


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