- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2003

Josh and Jarrod Davis aren’t trying to cause any trouble. They are not out to strike a blow for men’s rights, make a statement or satisfy any curiosity about how they would look in a skirt. As the first boys in Anne Arundel County to play high school field hockey — traditionally an all-girl sport in this country — they just want to have fun.

“We really enjoy the game,” Josh said.

Josh, a senior, and Jarrod, a freshman, attend Meade High School. Neither has competed in organized field hockey until now, but they are enthusiastic, spirited players — hardly the stars of the team but willing to learn. Others, however, fail to share their zest for the game, or seem to understand it. Howard and Arundel high schools have canceled games against Meade, saying that boys competing poses a physical threat to the girls or gives the team an unfair advantage.

“Our objection was we think the athletes would be put at physical risk,” Arundel athletic director Bernie Walter said, adding that when parents signed permission slips for their children, “it was with the presumption that those girls were going to play against girls.”

There have been other consequences. Josh and Jarrod, both of whom start for the Mustangs, are not expected to be allowed to participate in the playoffs and no victories will count when teams are seeded for postseason play. And, the brothers have occasionally been taunted and called some not-so-nice names by spectators.

“I think it’s just a lot of people overreacting,” Josh said.

“People are so narrow-minded about the situation. I feel like my head is on the cutting block,” said Meade coach Carrie Vosburg.

Vosburg hears people in the sport grumble that she’s not doing her best to build the program, that she has to turn to guys for help. That’s an insult, she said. In her fourth season as coach, Vosburg, who works full time as an advocate for mentally ill children, has turned around a program that had failed to win a game in seven years. Last season, without boys, Meade went 6-7.

Meade has no junior varsity team, and there is no feeder system of youth leagues in the area. When Vosburg took over, the players quickly learned that she was far more demanding than the previous coach, and several quit. In short, she needed bodies. That was Marlene Kelly’s reasoning. As Anne Arundel County supervisor of athletics, she sent a letter to athletic directors that essentially gave the boys permission to play amid the objections.

Because of Title IX and the concept of equality that supports it, women can play on male teams if they are good enough, not just in Maryland but everywhere and at any level. Annika Sorenstam made history this year by becoming the first female golfer in 58 years to play an event on the men’s PGA Tour.

Girls have been playing high school football for several years, and a few have played college football. Three weeks ago, Tanya Butler became the first woman in National Collegiate Athletic Association history to kick a field goal when she booted a 27-yarder for West Alabama. In 2000, kicker Heather Sue Mercer won a lawsuit against Duke University after she was cut from the football team, and asserted discrimination. Girls are even allowed to wrestle boys.

But according to the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, it’s up to each school to decide whether boys can play on girls’ teams. With a relatively small roster — Meade has 17 players — Vosburg welcomed Josh and Jarrod trying out. (And they did have to try out; a spot on the team was not guaranteed.)

“I didn’t have a problem with it,” she said, citing field hockey’s origins as a men’s sport, and that it is male-dominated in the rest of the world. “So I wasn’t shocked. It’s nothing new to me. I played in a coed league in Baltimore. I knew we were venturing into something new to the county, and I knew it would cause a little bit of a stink, but I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal. That’s what’s hard for me.”

Josh, a varsity wrestler, used to play football but found that he liked field hockey more after knocking the ball around with a stick in his friends’ back yards. “I thought, ‘This is pretty cool.’” he said.

Jarrod, who also wrestles, played football until he broke his femur, the largest bone in the body, in three places when he was tackled during a practice. Time to change sports. Jarrod had visited cousins in Delaware who played in a field hockey summer league and discovered that he, too, liked the game. “I found it interesting,” he said.

Neither is physically imposing. Josh, who also plays lacrosse, stands 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs about 160 pounds. Jarrod goes about 5-7, 135. But strength is not an issue, because field hockey rules strictly prohibit contact. Although they are among the quicker players on the team, their technique is lacking because of inexperience.

“It’s not about strength, it’s about skill,” Vosburg said.

“I’m learning a lot of stuff I didn’t know,” Jarrod said.

Said Josh: “A lot of girls have showed me a thing or two and just left me standing. It doesn’t matter how strong I am. There was nothing I could do to stop them from going by me.”

The boys’ mom, Tami, is amused when she hears that her sons are a potential menace to the girls’ safety. “They’ve come home with more injuries,” she said with a laugh. “They’re worried about the girls?”

Sports are a big part of the family. A sister, Cailin, played volleyball for Meade and now plays lacrosse. Dad Tim Davis, an Army chief warrant officer who flies Apache attack helicopters, is assistant wrestling coach at Meade (Vosburg’s brother, Chad, is head coach). Tami is an assistant softball coach and owns and rides horses.

Tim had to work, but Tami attended a game Wednesday at Annapolis High School. The fans behaved, and Meade won 3-1. The Mustangs are 3-2 for the season, the first time in memory that the program has been over .500. It also was the first Meade victory over Annapolis that anyone could remember.

Field hockey sometimes is difficult to follow, especially with bodies tangled up around the goal, so Tami was both surprised and elated to learn afterward that Jarrod had scored his first two goals of the year.

Jarrod was calmer than his mom, at least on the outside. “I’m pretty excited,” he said. “I’m trying to hold it in till I get on the bus.”

Both had some issues with which to deal. Jarrod didn’t start because he was sent to the principal for failing to heed a teacher’s admonition to take his head off his desk. “I was tired,” he said, explaining how he had missed five days of school because of the recent bad weather “and I wasn’t used to the early mornings.” He also was issued a green card warning for inadvertent contact during the game.

Josh, who has yet to score a goal, was in the middle of the action most of the time except when Vosburg yanked him in the second half because his defense needed some work. The two had a little chat and Josh returned later.

“I didn’t play too good today,” he said. “My defense was horrible.”

Junior Kelly Benik, the squad’s top scorer, said it has been “helpful” having the boys on the team, adding, “They’re very spirited and they keep the team up.” Yet she, like just about everyone else, was surprised at Jarrod’s goal-scoring burst, and said the brothers still have a lot to learn.

“They’re progressing,” she said.

And what about the skirt, or “kilt,” as they prefer to call it?

“I told Jarrod he has nice legs,” Josh said.

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