When junior Ryan Buchanan steps onto the field with his teammates to get ready for the upcoming club field hockey game, sometimes he sticks out. That is because he is currently the only man on the team.
Buchanan played soccer and tennis in high school and currently serves as the vice president of the college’s club tennis team. It was not until this semester that he decided to try out field hockey. He said he wanted to join the team to learn more about the sport and to improve his skills, but in doing so, he is also challenging a social norm — that field hockey is only a women’s sport in the United States.
“Back in high school, I saw field hockey players in other schools, and our school didn’t have a field hockey team,” Buchanan said. “I was always interested in seeing what the sport was about.”
Field hockey outside of the U.S. is predominantly a male sport. There are prestigious men’s field hockey tournaments in Europe, such as the Euro Hockey League and the FIH Pro League. However, historically, field hockey has always been seen as a women’s sport in the U.S.
Field hockey was brought to the U.S. in 1901 by a British woman named Constance Applebee. She later co-founded the USA Field Hockey Association.
Rik Burger, member of the North American Society for Sports History, said the reason field hockey is not a popular men’s sport in the U.S. is the emphasis on the four other major sports in the country.
“The regular U.S. team sports, such as baseball, basketball and ice hockey, are so popular and offer a lot more chances for commercial careers,” Burger said. “This means that male students are not interested, and they have the option to choose individual sports that are also careerwise and financially interesting such as golf and tennis.”
Buchanan said he did not know the college had a club field hockey team until the week before the semester began. He always liked watching ice hockey and was curious to see what the differences between ice hockey and field hockey were.
Buchanan said he was very eager to learn about field hockey and try something completely new.
“I’m learning way more about the sport than I ever would have learned if I had not joined the team,” Buchanan said. “First of all, I didn’t know any of the rules of field hockey before, and now I feel like I have a decent grasp of them after two weeks of practicing.”
Buchanan did not hesitate to join the team, even when he knew he would be the only male member. He said he was more focused on enjoying the sport.
Even though the team is in a co-ed league, the South Hill squad has not had a man on the roster in the time senior club president Cara Hoefen has been with the team.
“I was super excited,” Hoefen said. “For my four years here on the team, we’ve been trying to get guys to play because we play other schools who have guys on the team.”
Buchanan said that even though he does not think it is odd, he understands that a man playing field hockey is uncommon in American culture.
“It is not normal to see just one male sharing the sports field with all females, as the world of sport is generally dominated by males,” Buchanan said. “So when a male is on the field playing a sport that is stereotypically seen as a sport for females in the United States, those witnessing it feel that it is uncharacteristic.”
Hoefen said having a male player in a sport that is mostly female can have its perks. She said Buchanan brings a new style of play to the team.
“His speed is amazing,” Hoefen said. “He can run circles around all of us. He’s not afraid of anything.”
Hoefen said Buchanan is a great teammate because he helps each individual on the team better their skills.
“It’s a lot of fun having him around,” Hoefen said. “It helps us amp up our level of play. Having him boosts us up and boosts our confidence.”
Although it is rare for a male player to be on the team, freshman Taylor DeMarco said she does not feel it is out of the ordinary.
“It’s not really that weird,” DeMarco said. “A lot of people in European countries who play are guys. It’s just not that common here. Not a lot of guys know about field hockey because it’s not a very well-known sport. Field hockey is portrayed as a girls sport, but in reality, it’s not.”
Buchanan said the main reason he joined field hockey was to pick up a new and interesting sport, but it has also allowed him to meet people he would not have had interactions with otherwise.
“I didn’t really know anyone on the team,” Buchanan said. “It’s cool creating a whole new group of people that I can interact with in the future.”
Buchanan said the team has been helpful in coaching him and showing him the ropes of field hockey. During the team’s first game, Buchanan said, his teammates were encouraging him the whole time.
Hoefen and DeMarco said they do not see why more male athletes are not involved in field hockey. Buchanan said he did not pay attention to the fact that he would be joining the team as the only guy, and he encourages people of any gender to try the sport.
“It’s always fun to try new experiences,” Buchanan said. “Knowing that you are never limited to any sport or any activity based on gender or identity is a cool concept.”