Wednesday October 26, 2011 | 06:59 AM

I love field hockey, and as a man, I've taken heat for that over the years, mainly from other men who have never really watched the sport.

That said, a growing, little thing in high school field hockey in Maine needs to be stopped, before it becomes a big thing.

During the Belfast-Nokomis Eastern B final Tuesday at the Weatherbee Complex in Hampden (won 1-0 by Belfast), I was sitting in the press box. You get a more panoramic view from up there, and I saw a couple of disturbing things on Nokomis penalty corners.

On penalty corners, the defensive players who are not in the goal area need to start from behind the 50-yard line, or midfield. On one of these, I saw the Belfast end player start at the 45. Neither official was checking on this, or checking on whether the Belfast players crossed midfield before the ball was put in play (they didn't). Sure, everyone wants a 5-yard head start, but it's illegal.

On another penalty corner, this same Belfast player set up behind the 50, but a good 10-15 feet out of bounds, which is also not permitted. I watched the referee, Pam Hennessey, wave her back inbounds. Then, as it became obvious Hennessey and the other official were looking away for good, I saw this player creep back out of bounds and finally go back to more or less the spot where she started.

To me, this crosses the line between stretching the rules and breaking them. It's a rule, the player knows the rule, the player was told by the umpire she was breaking the rule, and she took advantage of the referees not watching the play closely enough.

What's more disturbing to me is that this isn't terribly unusual in high school field hockey. Players grab other players' sticks, hook legs, you name it. It's dirty play, and more and more teams are doing it.

But who is minding the store? Where are the role models? Where are the parents teaching their children fair play? Where are the coaches saying, "Let me make this perfectly clear: I don't care if we get away with it or not -- We're not going to win that way."? With all the organized youth leagues, shouldn't players be learning fair play at a young age?

Of course, you do see this in other high school sports. Soccer players, on a throw-in, will take a 15-yard head start so that they're throwing the ball in 15 yards upfield instead of where it actually went out of bounds. Softball pitchers learn to crow-hop, which is illegal, but they know most umpires won't call it, and they also know there's no uniformity in the call from umpire to umpire. Cheerleading teams used to just have to submit their number of tumblers on the honor system, until somebody started counting and realized they were lying.

I also love baseball, and what a lot of people don't realize is that in the early years of organized professional baseball leagues, you'd see this kind of thing all the time. In the 1890s, outfielders would keep balls hidden in the grass, and infielders might give a trip or a hip-check to a runner rounding second and heading for third.

They cut out that crap in baseball, and I wish they'd cut it out in field hockey. It's a game of brilliant skill and endurance, but while the level of quality play is higher than it was 10 years ago, so is the level of dirty play. The onus is on the coaches and referees to make it clear they won't stand for it.

Belfast played a superb game on Tuesday. Julia Ward was out of her mind in goal, and Katrina Lapham made two phenomenal defensive saves. That's the kind of individual effort I want to see when I go to a game, not the effort to see how much you can get away with.

About the Author

Travis Lazarczyk has worked at the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal since 2000. He covers football, basketball and baseball. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/tlazarmaine

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