Ivy Preparatory League (IPL) bans Hackley’s male field hockey player from league play


Courtesy of Colin Ives

Ayesha Sen, Staff Writer

By a 7-1 vote held on September 27, the Ivy Preparatory League (IPL) ruled against allowing a male player on the Hackley School’s Varsity Field Hockey team to compete against the league’s all-female field hockey teams.

Since field hockey is classified as a girl’s sport by the IPL, Colin Ives, a current senior at Hackley, and co-captain of the Hackley field hockey team, was required to pass a physical fitness test before the start of each year’s season. Ives passed the test this year, as he had in the past. However, this season, the IPL received several complaints from IPL athletic directors, which prompted the board meeting.

The board, consisting of the eight Heads of School of Ivy Preparatory League, follows the Mixed Competition Rules set by New York State Education Department. The rules state when there is no boys or co-ed team available for a specific sport, boys can try out to join the girls’ team for that sport. According to the rules, each case is individually reviewed and approved by a panel consisting of the school’s physician, a physical education teacher appointed by the principal, and, potentially, a physician chosen by the student’s parents or guardians. The panel considers a variety of factors including medical health, maturity, fitness, and the individual’s skill in comparison to other members of the team.

According to the section on Mixed Competition in New York State Education website, “When the physical abilities of the individual are deemed by the panel to be short of or exceed the physical abilities of other team members, thereby creating a hazardous condition or unfair advantage for that student or other members of the team, denial of participation would be appropriate.”

Though Ives was initially approved to play, the IPL concluded in their vote at the September meeting that his physical abilities exceeded his teammates and was therefore potentially creating safety concerns for other players. In 26 years of co-ed play, this was only the second challenge to the Mixed Competition Rule.

Hackley appealed the ruling, resulting in a second IPL meeting earlier this month, in which administrators once again voted 7-1 against allowing Ives to play. In both votes, Hackley was the only school to disagree with the choice to ban Ives from interleague play.

The school’s Girls Varsity Field Hockey team played Hackley’s Field Hockey team on Wednesday, September 29, but due to the IPL’s decision, Hackley played without Ives. Even so, Hackley defeated Horace Mann 7 to 1.

While Ives will not be allowed to play against schools that are part of the IPL, he will still be allowed to play against schools outside of the league, Hackley VFH member Destiny Stephen said.

According to the Hackley school website, Ives is the leading scorer on their Varsity Field Hockey team. Ives plays in a variety of positions, including offensive, defensive, and midfield roles. This season, Ives has scored 19 points; over his entire career, he has scored a total of 51 points.

Annunziata declined to comment on the IPL’s decision as the matter is an ongoing league issue. Kelly also declined to comment on the decision as he is currently the Executive Chair of the League.

Before the field hockey season started, Ives had heard about the complaints of athletic directors, he said. However, he did not realize the severity of the situation until he learned he was no longer allowed to play against schools that are a part of the IPL.

Ives found out that he was not permitted to play through his mother, Hackley’s field hockey coach, who learned of the decision after the IPL’s meeting, he said. “I didn’t even know that this meeting was happening or that there was a vote taking place,” Ives said. “I got to know really out of the blue, so I couldn’t even state my case because the decision was already made.”

After Ives found out about the IPL’s decision, he wrote an email to the League’s heads, expressing his unhappiness with the decision and requesting more information about the circumstances of the vote, he said. However, he did not receive a response. “Obviously [the IPL heads] are very busy people, but I think that if I had gotten a response back from any one of them, I could’ve understood the decision more,” he said. “As of now, it’s still a mystery to me.”

The IPL’s decision gained greater attention through social media when Stephen uploaded a statement to her Instagram account @destiny.steph, Jiwan Kim (9) said. Stephen condemned the IPL’s decision and firmly voiced her support of Ives on behalf of the team.

In her post, Stephen criticized the decision as hypocritical, calling out the schools in the IPL for failing to follow through on their promise to uphold diversity and prevent discrimination. “In addition to stating our stance, [the Hackley Varsity Field Hockey team] wants to say that we stand in support of Colin, and against the decision that was made by the league,” Stephen wrote. “The results of the vote taken by the heads of school is an example of blatant discrimination based on sex.”

Members of the school’s VFH team learned about the decision through Stephen’s Instagram post, Kim said. Led by its upperclassmen, the team then requested information about the situation from Physical Education Teacher and coach Caroline Surhoff, Kim said. As a result, Kelly decided that it would be best to explain the situation to the students directly, she said.

Kelly, Director of Athletics Robert Annunziata, and Head of the Upper Division Dr. Jessica Levenstein addressed the decision the following day at a meeting with the school’s Upper Division VFH team. The administration scheduled the meeting to prepare the school’s VFH team for their upcoming match with Hackley, since it was Hackley’s first game since the vote, Levenstein said.

“While many of the students on the team were already aware of the situation, the meeting gave them the chance to hear directly from Dr. Kelly and Mr. Annunziata about what the circumstances were for Horace Mann’s vote in that process,” Levenstein said. “There was a concern that the [Hackley] players would be understandably upset or frustrated during the game, and we wanted to make sure that the girls representing Horace Mann had full information and felt the support of the school.”

Though Ives has played against Horace Mann before, the issue was repeatedly raised by IPL Athletic Directors more recently. “From what we were told, this was a problem from the beginning, and wasn’t addressed until now,” Alessandra Agopian (9) said.

Ives is unsure why his place on Hackley’s field hockey team just became a problem, he said. “I don’t want to speak for the people that made their decisions, but I have been playing for years, and I don’t think I’ve gotten more dangerous,” he said. “Actually, I have gained greater control over my technique, which should make me less dangerous.”

Agopian is confused by the IPL’s decision since this is Ives’ last opportunity to play, she said. “While I respect their decision, and it’s understandable that the Ivy League board has to consider all factors, I feel that since he’s been playing for the past three years, he should be able to continue.”

Ives has not played in a match against a school that is part of the IPL since 2019, he said. While Ives played matches against schools outside of the IPL this season, before the IPL vote, he had not yet received any cards or fouls this year, he said.

“Because of COVID and now this, I haven’t been able to play an Ivy League game since I was a sophomore,” he said. “The fact that no one [from the IPL] has seen me play in years makes me wonder what this decision was really based on. I don’t know if it was genuinely a safety worry, or if they just had a problem because I am a boy.”

While Kim disagrees with the board’s decision, she believes that their conclusion was not made with the intent to discriminate, she said. “I definitely get that field hockey can be a dangerous sport, especially when players get aggressive, so to some extent, I do see where the decision came from,” Kim said. “But that being said, it definitely feels wrong, and I think that [Ives] should have been allowed to play.”

Ives believes that the IPL’s justification is invalid, as he has played with girls who hit the ball just as strongly as he does and with others who have an even harder hit, he said. “The argument that I’m too strong or am a safety hazard just doesn’t make sense,” he said. “What about the girls who are stronger than me or have more fouls than me?”

Ives also believes that the vote is disrespectful to the girls he plays against, he said. “If you ask me, it’s sending an opinion or a message to the girls that I have to play against that they’re not strong enough to handle me, or that they’re too weak, which is absolutely not true,” he said.

Kim thinks that the bias in the situation is especially evident in comparison to the female athletes playing in male-dominated sports, such as football, she said. “When a girl plays football, a lot of people see it as being cool, like it’s woman empowerment,” she said. “But with a boy, like in this case, for some reason it’s weird to the world, which makes me wonder if this is really a matter of bias.”

Additionally, unlike sports such as football, field hockey is not a contact sport, which added to Kim’s confusion, she said. “For one girl to be tackled by several boys seems more dangerous than for one boy to try to hit a ball,” Kim said.

When Stephen found out about the IPL’s decision, she was shocked. “It’s our senior year and Colin won’t get a proper season, which is crazy because he’s been on the team since freshman year, but because of COVID and now this, his high school field hockey experience has not been fair,” she said.

Stephen and other members of Hackley’s field hockey team have made efforts to protest the vote, she said. “We’ve been wearing caution tape as headbands to our games since [the board] called Colin a ‘hazard,’” she said. “And a lot of people who come to watch our games bring signs or posters to support Colin.”

However, Ives is grateful for the support he has received from others, he said. “A lot of the students at my school, especially my teammates, my coaches, my teachers, and even students from other schools have all told me that they’re standing behind me,” he said. “Even though there’s not much I can do to change this decision, I think at the end of the day, I and my team are stronger and closer from this situation.”