By Al Mattei

How can you tell whether public-school players from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island like their mandatory eyewear?

Put them in a situation where they aren't wearing goggles.

Just follow the progress of Team Avon through the 2005 National Futures Tournament at the Virginia Beach Sportsplex, and you just might understand. Avon's players, save three, wear goggles for every varsity high school match and, according to Avon head coach Marti Kane, are often limited in their abilities because of them.

"Playing without goggles certainly allows the players more of an opportunity to have field vision and seeing our strategy," says Kane, assistant coach at the University of Rhode Island. "At Futures, if they choose to wear protective goggles, they're certainly welcome to. And practically all of the players choose not to."

In fact, most of the players from the New England Futures regions did extremely well with the blinders off. Avon upset a heavily favored Team Kutztown in the quarterfinal round, taking a 3-0 second-half lead before surrendering a pair of late markers to make things more dramatic for their supporters at Landstown Road.

In that contest, the most aggressive moves in the circle were made by a a pair of players who are not required to wear goggles: Marlotte Van Den Bergh and Meighan McGowan of Greenwich (Conn.) Academy. As a Western New England Preparatory Schools Athletic Association (WNEPSAA) school, its players don't wear goggles, even when playing against the state's public-school teams.

And if you ask the remainder of the players on their roster, you get an overwhelming distaste for the eyewear. And this sentiment was not limited to players on Team Avon.

"What bothers me is when it rains or gets foggy," says Bonnie Shea of Walpole (Mass.) who played on Team Boston. "And when I started wearing them freshman year, I really lost depth perception because they made you feel as though if you were stumbling; it looked like the ground was coming up."

And despite the protective aspect of goggle-wearing, Shea remembers well an incident where they were of no help.

"I hit someone in the nose with the ball, and I think it was just this past season," Shea says. "The goggles just shattered and their nose was broken. It didn't really help them at all. If anything, they're more dangerous because you couldn't see anything."

Neither Avon nor Boston would win gold on the weekend. Boston finished ninth, but it was a strong ninth: the team won all of its games in the classification round after pool play. Avon, after its upset in the quarterfinals, would slip to fourth, just out of the medals, on the final classification day after playing brilliantly the day before.

The experience was an object lesson to the New England players which, sadly, has been lost on the rulesmakers in their respective states.

"I guess, if you're a parent, you may feel better if your kid is playing with goggles," Shea says. "But they're a nuisance."

So, what might it take to get the rulesmakers to get rid of the eyewear?

"It'll take pressure from parents, coaches, and players," says Kane. "I think that just the education about pros and cons and how safe it is to have goggles rather than to not have them, and to have those that make the decisions be more aware of those type of things."

NOTE: The Right To Right Is Right program is designed to help players, coaches, and administrators in maintaining a safe and injury-free environment for all field hockey participants. However, participants in any sport should be aware of the inherent risk of injury.