Skowhegan field hockey teammates Layla Conway (14) and Norie Tibbetts (21) celebrate after the River Hawks scored in overtime to beat Oxford Hills in the 2022 Class A North championship game at Hoch Field in Gardiner. Many Maine players and coaches have questioned the Maine Principals’ Association’s mandate that all athletes wear goggles on the field.  Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

TOPSHAM — Playing field hockey is something Alex Graf loves more than just about anything, but for one week in August, the game gives her a headache — a literal one.

Between club play, offseason workouts and summer leagues, Graf, a Mt. Ararat High School senior, has been playing the sport without protective eye goggles for eight or nine months now. That will all change Monday as practices begin for the high school season, where goggles are mandated.

“For my first few days of training at the beginning of the season, I usually get headaches from how tight they are,” Graf said. “From January through July, I play field hockey without wearing goggles, so it’s a big adjustment to adjust my body and my mind and everything to having that compression all the way around my head.”

It’s just one of countless complaints that Maine high school field hockey players and coaches have about the wireframe goggles, which are required only for school leagues. As states elsewhere drop the requirement that the goggles must be worn, Maine remains one of just two states (along with Rhode Island) that still mandates their use.

The Maine Principals’ Association first implemented its goggles requirement in 2011, shortly after the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Board of Directors voted to mandate protective eyewear. Three years ago, though, the NFHS reversed course and made the goggles optional.

A few states followed suit. Connecticut and Pennsylvania dropped their protective eyewear requirements immediately following the reversal. New Hampshire dropped it for 2021, and Massachusetts joined the list last year. Many in Maine hoped their state would eventually follow suit, but that’s yet to happen.


“I think it’s been increasingly confusing for us as coaches as well as for the players,” said Mt. Ararat head coach Krista Chase. “They go to out-of-state tournaments, they play in summer leagues here, and they play club, and goggles aren’t worn. I think the MPA has the best intentions in mind, but I think it’s time to look at what other states are doing and what our players are being required to wear and not allowed to wear.”

Mt. Ararat field hockey coach Krista Chase, center, talks with her team following a 2022 game against Messalonskee in Oakland. Chase has described the MPA’s eyewear mandate as “increasingly confusing” as other states eliminate the rule.  Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Field hockey, as many players and coaches will point out, is a game that’s getting faster and more technical. It’s also played more and more on turf fields and pristine grass surfaces that have further sped up the pace of the game, requiring athletes to make the most of their peripheral vision in order to make timely, decisive reactions.

Graf, Chase and new Gardiner coach Jess Merrill all agree that goggles hinder players’ abilities to make such reactions. They also cause injuries of their own, with Graf recalling an incident last year in which one of her teammates became concussed after an opponent’s goggles struck her in the temple. Merrill says she’s seen goggles tear skin, leading to significant scarring.

“I know there’s always those freak accidents, but I think that if kids are taught skills the right way from an early age and have coaches that hold them to those skills, they’re not needed, especially with the game getting faster on turf,” Merrill, who previously coached at Gray-New Gloucester and Winthrop,  said. “I think there are more injuries with them than without them. I’d like to see them gone.”

Players and coaches have long expressed concerns that the goggles cause more injuries than they prevent. When the NFHS first mandated the use of goggles in 2011, a website called was established to show instances of such injuries. Although that website is no longer updated, teams still regularly reported goggle-related injuries to officials.

“People get injured from them, and we send pictures to the MPA saying, ‘Look, this is what the goggles did,’” said Skowhegan senior Laney LeBlanc. “A friend on my team, her ear got ripped because of the goggle part, and there was another where she had to get stitches after it messed up her eyebrow. We had to send the picture to the MPA to say, ‘Look, these are dangerous.’”


A 2012 study by the Hasbro Children’s Hospital concluded that players in states with protective eyewear mandates were five times less likely to suffer eye injuries than those without said mandates. Yet in its 2020 ruling, the NFHS said that “no significant research data has indicated that goggles have reduced the number of eye injuries, particularly those of a catastrophic nature.”

Lawrence field hockey coach Shawna Robinson fist bumps players as they wait for the awards ceremony to start after the 2022 Class B final at Messalonskee High School in Oakland. While Robinson feels players need protection for the head and face, she doesn’t agree with the MPA’s eyewear mandate.  Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Lawrence head coach Shawna Robinson believes there is a need for protective gear for the head and face areas — but not the protective eyewear mandate currently in place. Instead, what she wants to see is the use of corner masks to protect defenders on one of the game’s most dangerous plays.

As is the case with protective eyewear, there’s a disconnect between what the MPA allows in terms of corner masks and how players play the game in club or summer leagues. Those masks aren’t even allowed, something that concerns Robinson on a play that involves defenders and attacking converging on one another from close range.

“We wear them everywhere else, but during the season for the MPA, we can’t,” Robinson said. “I’ve never been (told why). Again, they say we’re all about safety, but that’s the most dangerous play. I get that we can’t wrap them in bubble wrap, but you could at least protect the face, and goggles are not going to protect you on a direct shot.”

Merrill says she gets complaints from her players about the goggles every single day at practice, especially after they just spent much of the calendar year playing without them. Chase also gets regular complaints, and although she’s privy to her team training as it’s going to play, there are times these days when she just gives in.

“Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, but now, I’m to the point where I say, ‘Fine; you don’t have to wear them today,’” Chase said. “They’re cumbersome, they’re just another layer, and (the players) really feel like they don’t need them to play the game properly and safely.”


Two years ago, MPA Sports Medicine Committee Chairman Dr. William Heinz told the Portland Press Herald the committee would “not back down” on the goggles mandate as long as he was chairman. Heinz and other members of the Sports Medicine Committee could not be reached for comment on this story.

Maine Field Hockey Association President and Massabesic head coach Katherine Fournier said the Field Hockey Committee is scheduled to meet soon with a liaison set to give a report on “concerns” over the goggles. Highlights from that meeting will then be discussed at the committee’s business meeting at St. Joseph’s College.

Players and coaches are optimistic. Even if Graf and LeBlanc do end up wearing the goggles as seniors this fall, they’d love to see that requirement removed for future athletes. Given the trend across the country, Chase hopes it’s only a matter of time before Maine ditches its status as one of the two remaining holdouts.

“It’s obviously not up to us — it’s up to the MPA — but I just have to believe it’s heading in that direction because we’ve been talking about this for a few years now,” Chase said. “We just want to do right by our kids, and we feel this is what’s best for them.”

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