Mt. Blue High School student Emma Dunn loves everything about lacrosse.

Well, not everything. At least not in the high school girls game.

“I wish we could hit,” said Dunn, a senior at the Farmington school. “It would be fun. (Boys) can do a lot more than we can (in their sport). I don’t know, it’s just really frustrating.”

High school boys and girls lacrosse teams share many common rules and guidelines as set by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

There are, of course, some differences in the two sports nationwide. But the most noticeable difference is that girls — unlike the boys — are prohibited from checking opposing players, both in Maine and nationwide. Boys lacrosse players are outfitted in helmets, gloves, arm pads and shoulder pads to help them absorb contact. Girls players, by contrast, wear just protective eye goggles and mouth guards since physical hits are prohibited.

Some players and coaches from around Maine say they’d like to see changes to the girls game, although long-standing rules in state and across the country make that highly unlikely.


“I love lacrosse, but I think girls are more tough than people think,” Lawrence senior Madison Chamberlain said. “I think I can take a couple hits.”

Added Kennebunk senior Ruby Sliwkowski: “I would 100% like to see more physicality. Our standard (in Maine) right now is extremely low.”

In girls lacrosse, teams compete with 10 players on the field (the boys play with 12) and a body check is considered a major foul under National Federation of State High School Associations rules.

Messalonskee’s Julia Wade (1) scores on Mt. Blue goalie Maddie Keller (30) as she is defended by Callahan Towle (6) in the first quarter of a May 9 girls lacrosse game in Farmington. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

According to the rules, an “excessively rough, dangerous or unsportsmanlike play,” can be considered a misconduct, and warrants either a yellow card (warning) or a red card (ejection) from a game by an official. These rules are similar to the ones in soccer. In boys lacrosse, teams play with 12 players on the field and players are allowed to check the ball-carriers.

The NFHS serves 19,500 high schools nationwide. High school sports’ governing bodies in all 50 states operate under the NFHS umbrella in some capacity, including the Maine Principals’ Association. Some states, including Texas, Iowa and Florida, chose not to follow NFHS guidelines in some of their high school sports. Texas, for example, sets its own rules for high school football.

While schools are allowed to modify the rules of play in each sport it offers, doing so comes at the risk of losing representation on important NFHS rules committees. That, MPA director Mike Burnham said, is why Maine opts to adhere to NFHS guidelines.


“I would say (body checks in girls lacrosse) would be seen as a playing rules change,” said Burnham, who is on the NFHS board of directors.

So why the discrepancy in the rules of contact between the girls and boys game?

NFHS rules liaison Lindsey Atkinson said her organization works closely with USA Lacrosse and the National Collegiate Athletics Association to create a streamlined set of guidelines that should be followed from the youth level through the college game.

Freeport’s David Ulrickson checks Biddeford’s Adam Lewis during a May 2 game at Biddeford. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald

The MPA — which governs high school sports in the state — follows NFHS rules and guidelines, according to Burnham.

Atkinson said there is no movement nationwide to change the rules in girls lacrosse.

“People seem to have a great appreciation for both games as separate sports,” Atkinson said. “Similar to, as you would say, baseball and softball. Both have a bat, both have a ball. But we all as a society have accepted them as two different sports. There’s hits, there’s runs, there’s so many things in common. I get these questions from new states that adopt (lacrosse) more than anything. The traditional states on the East Coast, they love and respect both games. The more you introduce these sports to different (states), because they have the word ‘lacrosse’ in them, there is more of the question of, ‘Hey, why am I sending my boy out with all this padding, but I’m sending my girl out in some goggles?'”


Atkinson said the rules aren’t intended to suggest physicality is OK for boys and not girls, but rather a recognition that they are different sports.

Still, the disparity in the boys and girls games angers many involved in lacrosse in Maine.

“I’m going to be really blunt: The only reason that women’s lacrosse was created out of men’s lacrosse was to make it less physical because of this idea that girls can’t play overtly physical sports,” Mt. Blue co-coach Kat Zachary said. “I do have girls that are frustrated because of that, not to mention the fact that, like I said, you have girls who have been playing lacrosse for a really long time and know how to use that physicality. It just seems like there’s this inconsistency in terms of what’s allowable for girls lacrosse in the state of Maine.”

Brunswick’s Kelsie Carlton (4) charges the goal as Messalonskee’s Nearly Dillon defends in the first quarter of an April 21 girls lacrosse game in Oakland. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Dr. William Heinz, who is a liaison for the MPA Sports Medicine Committee and previously chaired the NFHS Sports Medicine Committee, said high school girls lacrosse players could easily play a more physical style of play.

“If they want to play full-contact lacrosse — great, do it,” he said. “There’s nothing about the girls physiology that prevents them from doing that. But, it’s a different game (from the boys). Girls play soccer, the same game as boys soccer, and it’s a very physical game. And that’s played with no pads.”

Some coaches and players in Maine say that no changes are needed to the girls game.


“I think the level of play and the physicality we’re at right now is pretty much where I’d like it to be,” said Brunswick head coach EmaLeigh Aschbrenner, who led the Dragons (12-2) to the No. 1 seed in Class B this season. “They’re allowed to give a little more pressure, a little more push and play in a safe way. I think if there’s anything more than that, we’re going to have to add more rules and gear, and that risks more injury.”

Cony girls lacrosse coach Gretchen Livingston agreed.

“I prefer girls lacrosse to be a finesse game,” she said. “That being said, it’s definitely an attacker’s game. It’s an offensive game and there’s a lot of things that are rules against a defense. However, if defense is played in a skilled manner, with body position, communication and just smart defensive concepts, then there’s no need for more checking to be allowed, or to risk girls getting hurt. If we moved in that direction, we would need to give the girls pads, like the boys have. I appreciate the strategy and finesse of the girls game as it exists now.”

Abby Morrill, left, breaks away from Gardiner defender Lilly Diversi during a girls lacrosse season-opening game Thursday at Fuller Field in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Atkinson said she doesn’t envision the physicality rules in the girls game to change anytime soon nationwide, but acknowledged the topic does spark debate.

“We’ve had, philosophically, those conversations,” she said. “I would say that the traditionalists of the sport, those that have really grown to love and appreciate the two separate sports, have no desire to create an opportunity where you’re putting more pads on girls, therefore, creating a similar sport to boys lacrosse. They like that it’s a different game, and because of that, played differently.”

Changing the rules in girls lacrosse would not be easy. For starters, the game would need to be taught differently than how it is today, and it would need to start in the youth levels. Then there’s the officiating aspect of it.


“As it stands right now, boys and girls lacrosse are two pretty different games,” Brunswick senior Leila Bannon said. “They’re not really comparable. Looking at how they play at college and pro levels, it’s still not comparable, but with more physicality, I get frustrated because I think I am an aggressive player, but I’ve managed to teach myself to pull it back in order to save myself from the calls. … If we were to change boys and girls lacrosse to make them more comparable, it would be changing the sport at a fundamental level and changing how the athletes are brought up from a super young age. I think, maybe over time that could happen, but right now it’d be a pretty hard switch.”

Heinz, the liaison for the MPA Sports Medicine Committee, said it all adds up to a big decision that U.S. Lacrosse needs to make.

“Do they want just one game, with the boys and the girls the same? Or do they want to keep two separate games?” Heinz said. “And I think a lot of (people) don’t understand that they’re two separate games. They read lacrosse and they think, ‘Oh, it’s the boys game, just give them a stick and tell them to hit each other as much as they want.'”

Morning Sentinel reporter Mike Mandell contributed to this report.

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