New coach, veteran counterpart see field hockey eyewear as an issue

In one fell swoop, Roland Park Country School coach Eliza McLaren is charged with taking over the Reds' field hockey program from local legend Debbie Bloodsworth and dealing with controversial new eyewear mandates for the 2011 season.

That's a lot to chew on for a rookie coach, although McLaren has been in the program for several years as an assistant to Bloodsworth, who left the school after 29 years.

"It's an honor," said McLaren, a junior varsity goalie for the Reds before transferring to Lawrenceville School for the remainder of her prep career. "I was just so thrilled to have been named the head coach after playing for her. She left a legacy of love for the sport and a commitment to the program. I have very fond memories of playing for her."

Noting that there "will be some differences" from Bloodsworth's style, McLaren nonetheless will continue to stress the same fundamentals that marked her predecessor's teams.

Coincidental to regime change, McLaren — and her coaching contemporaries — must also deal with eyewear rules for the first time.

Goggles or cage-type protective gear, similar to equipment worn in women's lacrosse, will be required for the first time after the National Federation of High Schools circumvented its own rules committee to implement the new mandate.

USA Field Hockey, the sport's national governing body, recommends eyewear to be worn on an individual voluntary basis. However, the organization does not have jurisdiction over the interscholastic version of the sport.

And because Roland Park is a member of the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland, eyewear will be worn in practice and games by all players this fall.

According to Sue Thompson, the IAAM executive director, the "the IAAM will follow the NFHS rule, which states that the field player shall wear protective eyewear that meets the current (American Society for Testing and Materials) standard."

Baltimore County consultant of interscholastic athletics Ron Belinko said county teams will also follow the same mandate.

"I know that some of the girls are concerned," McLaren said. "But I don't see it as a competitive disadvantage, and I think that they will adjust."

Bryn Mawr coach Jeanette Budzik said that upgrading rules regarding player safety are generally a good idea, pointing to the "self-pass" rule last year.

"Traditionally, on a free hit, the ball could be hit directly into the shooting circle, but this is no longer allowed," she said "As far as I can tell, it has decreased danger."

Yet the timing of the NFHS ruling (April) makes it difficult for some players, coaches and manufacturers.

"If you don't have the polycarbonate (plastic) goggles now, you can't get them until the end of October," said Sports Her Way owner Sue Heether.

Still, Heether says she supports the rule from a safety perspective.

"A stick in the hands of a novice player could be considered a lethal weapon," she said.

Even in the hands of veteran players, an inadvertent swing or high shot could be very dangerous.

"There continues to be a lot of controversy surrounding the goggles," Budzik said. "I am concerned. Since this has been mandated, as far as I know, no one has a choice. The decision came unexpectedly, and now my concern is getting athletes in 'field hockey' goggles that allow them to play safely without adding a new dimension of danger. Only time will tell what this will bring, but there will definitely be a period of adjustment for everyone."

The Reds will find out in a hurry how well the masks and goggles work. After scrimmages against public school rivals Dulaney and Towson, they will help archrival Bryn Mawr christen its new turf field in the opener for both schools Sept. 9 at 3:30 p.m. If that isn't enough, Roland Park hosts the Sally Nyborg Tournament the next day.

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