Riley Field of Sidney is among nine Maine natives who have earned a spot on the University of Maine field hockey team. The senior played at Messalonskee High School in Oakland. Credit: Courtesy of UMaine Athletics

University of Maine field hockey players said they are shocked and offended by the treatment the team received at Kent State University on Saturday.

The Black Bears’ neutral-site game against Temple University was halted by Kent State officials after the first 10-minute overtime period. They cited the need to prepare for a fireworks display planned prior to kickoff of Kent State’s football game at an adjacent stadium.

Coach Josette Babineau, and UMaine seniors Riley Field and Brianna Ricker spoke out about the situation during a Monday afternoon press conference in Orono.

“It’s almost awful that I’m not surprised [that it happened], because we’re a women’s field hockey team, and field hockey isn’t a huge sport in America,” Field said.

“On one level, we should be shocked and surprised but, on another level, it’s pretty sad [that] it’s not so shocking,” she added.

Credit: Courtesy of University of Maine Athletics

UMaine’s entire field hockey and women’s basketball teams attended along with UMaine Athletics Director Ken Ralph and several athletics staff members, including softball coach Mike Coutts and football coach Nick Charlton.

The outcry also was visible on national social media, with the likes of ESPN’s Jay Bilas and numerous media, former players and administrators expressing their disapproval of Kent State’s decision.

Ralph said UMaine’s Title IX department has filed a complaint with Kent State’s Title IX administrators.

“First and foremost, it is offensive and upsetting to think that because of your gender, your sport is looked upon as less,” Field said. “We work just as hard as the men’s teams.”

Title IX is the 1972 federal legislation that says no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

The score was tied 0-0, and the second sudden-death overtime period was set to begin when the game was stopped. That would have been followed, if necessary, by a penalty stroke shootout.

The game began at 9 a.m. and both schools had in May been informed that they would need to vacate the field by 10:30 a.m. due to fire marshal regulations, even though the fireworks didn’t start until noon.

However, Ralph said the written contract for the game had no mention of a 10:30 a.m. stop and that Kent State failed to communicate what steps would be taken if the game was still in progress at that time.

Kent State Director of Athletics Joel Nielsen on Monday issued a statement with an apology to all involved.

“On behalf of the Kent State University athletic department, I would like to apologize to the University of Maine and Temple University for the decisions made surrounding the field hockey contest,” he said. “In hindsight, a different decision should have been made to ultimately ensure the game reached its conclusion. We hold ourselves to a very high standard and, in this situation, we failed.”

The National Field Hockey Coaches Association issued a statement condemning Kent State’s actions. The release was authored by NFHCA President Andy Whitcomb and NFHCA Executive Director Jenn Goodrich, who is a Kent State alum and the school’s former head coach.

Ricker said she experienced sadness, frustration, anger and confusion about the situation.

“Title IX is great, but Title IX exists. The fact it has to exist for us to receive rights to be equal is self-explanatory,” Field said.

Babineau said seeing how much each player gives of herself physically, mentally and emotionally to the team and to their school, only to have the right to finish a game taken away from them, left them feeling that their talent, effort and sacrifice are not valued.

“We need to do everything we can to make sure they never have to experience these feelings again,” Babineau said. “All of our student-athletes are invaluable to our university, and treating people fairly is the most important aspect of everything we do.”

Ricker also said female athletes from across the country have reached out and shared their personal experiences with us.

“We want to try to turn this into something positive,” Ricker said.

However, there also have been derogatory tweets in regard to field hockey and women’s sports, Field said.

The NFHCA reviewed the situation and lambasted Kent State’s handling of it, specifically prioritizing a daytime fireworks display over the completion of a field hockey game.

“[It] sends a terrible message to female student-athletes. This decision was extremely damaging not only for the participating athletes, their coaches and their families but for all female student-athletes,” the NFHCA said.

Nielsen admitted the school’s apology cannot undo the negative impact of what occurred.

“[Kent State] let down the field hockey community and its supporters as a whole. We all live by core values, including integrity and respect, and in this case we undoubtedly fell short,” he said.

UMaine played Kent State on Sunday and lost 2-1. After the contest, Kent State players embraced the Black Bears and many shed some tears, Babineau said, adding that Kent State coaches and players were embarrassed by what transpired.

“One of their players made a very emotional statement about how proud they were of our team and for the social media attention it drew,” said Babineau, who applauded her players for the classy way they handled the situation.

Kent State and Hofstra are scheduled to visit Orono for a weekend series of games next season.

The NCAA field hockey committee still has not determined the official outcome of the game, although it initially was deemed a “no contest.” It could be called a tie, although there are no tie games in field hockey.

Ralph said if the NCAA ultimately allowed the teams to play again, they would have to play a complete game rather than pick up where they left off. The NFHCA suggested that, in the event of a rematch, Kent State should be responsible for the costs incurred by both teams.

“There’s no fix,” Ralph said.