The Wayland-Weston powderpuff flag football match is a WHS tradition, but it has come under fire in recent years with several concerns over safety and the merits of the game. Last year, the administration announced that 2021 would be the last times Powderpuff would take place. They reinforced that decision in October in meetings with student leaders, which led to those leaders holding the event without the school. In the week leading up to the game, this debate resurfaced as students voiced their opposition to the administration’s decision.
“The seniors last year had a lot of emotions related to that, which was only heightened by all the things they had lost, so it was hard to end the tradition last year” , Principal Allyson Mizoguchi said. “We decided to hold it last year, but we weren’t kidding that it would be the last.”
This message was reiterated through an email to parents at both schools on November 18, by Mizoguchi and Weston principal Paul Peri. They said the game was harmful to women, dangerous and contributed to an unhealthy relationship between the towns.
“To address some of the above issues, and in line with the practices of our peer schools, we will be ending the interschool powder competition this year,” Mizoguchi and Peri said.
With safety at the forefront of this debate, students and professors have contrasting opinions on the safety of powderpuff football. In recent years, players have suffered concussions, ACL tears and other injuries during the game.
“Having seen a number of students seriously hurt by their participation in Powderpuff, I am inclined to agree with the administration’s decision,” said English teacher Kelsey Pitcairn. “As a teacher, it’s heartbreaking to see these injuries.”
Many students, as well as players and powder coaches, have differing opinions on the threat of injury.
“Injuries are likely in any sport,” powderpuff coach Connor Sheehan said. ” I do not think so [the threat] is higher than the boys playing, lower than that, even.
The administration’s other concerns were that the puff itself was demeaning to women. Mizoguchi titled this issue “optical” in her memo, where she described concern that the event could be an environment for derogatory fan behavior.
“There’s an interesting element that at its best could be really exciting and fun, and at its worst becomes demeaning and insulting to female athletes,” Mizoguchi said.
Many WHS students and powderpuff players and coaches are not concerned about this issue.
“It’s kind of a joke, it’s for fun,” said senior powder player Ashley Rice.
When the event was halted last year, student council president Delia Caulfield and Weston student council president Grace Kirk tried to negotiate with their principals and come up with a plan to make the game a school-sanctioned event. After three meetings between student leaders and principals, it became clear that these efforts would be in vain.
“About a month before the game they gave us the final no,” Kirk said. “Our meetings weren’t that productive, it was like they were just pushing to give us a final answer.”
Student leaders were able to reserve the WHS turf for play, without the administration’s consent. The students worked with WHS parents and teachers on the Board of Wayland-Weston Youth Football, a community organization with the ability to reserve the pitch, to obtain this permit.
“Reservation must be through a community organization,” Caulfield said.
They also acquired a one-day insurance policy to protect against liability during play, paid for by students and parents.
“In normal situations, we wouldn’t have to deal with problems like [insurance]but since we’re planning it ourselves, we’re in charge of working out the insurance,” Caulfield said.
However, on Friday 18 November, Caulfield announced to the players that the reservation of the pitch had been cancelled, allegedly by the organization which had reserved it in the first place. The cancellation prompted a rushed search for a new location.
“It was a shock because just an hour before I was planning the game, and in that short time we didn’t have the pitch anymore,” Caulfield said.
Mizoguchi and Peri sent the note the same day the field permit was revoked. These two had no correlation with each other, but the coincidence caused confusion in the community.
“They sent this at a time when everything was up in the air, and we were almost getting to game day,” Caulfield said. “I feel like it should have been sent weeks ago if they really wanted to relay that message.”
Speculation has circulated that the WHS administration was directly involved in the removal of the land reserve, an allegation that no source has confirmed.
“When we sanctioned [powderpuff] individually, I don’t understand how it can still be regulated by the school,” said senior and powder player Madeline O’Leary.
WHS Senior Austin Russell created a petition on change.org to reinstate the permit, which garnered approximately 530 signatures. It was posted on the Wayland Community Forum on Facebook and caught the attention of parents, alumni and members of the WHS community. The initial post racked up 100 comments.
“It’s ridiculous that [administration] distorts the reality that injuries are caused by foul play, as this year’s rules attempt to mitigate that,” Russell said.
On Sunday, November 20, Mizoguchi sent out a second note to students and families announcing that the Powderpuff game will actually take place on Wednesday, November 23 on the WHS turf. She also said there will be medical staff on site, as well as officials from schools in Wayland and Weston.
“All the things that would allow us to support this event with confidence, we will try to achieve as much as possible,” Mizoguchi said.
However, that doesn’t mean Powderpuff is here to stay.
“We let people know our expectations, and this is the final year for this version of this event,” Mizoguchi said.
Some seniors are concerned about the loss of WHS culture as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. These students feel that the puff issue is just one of many traditions being suppressed.
“We’ve already lost so much after being in high school with COVID-19,” Rice said. “Nobody really listens to us, and they’re just trying to take more stuff away from us.”
Since the confirmation of the match, players and coaches have been preparing the sporting aspect of the event.
“We started training late, we only have a few days to prepare,” said senior player Riley Leichliter. “I hope we will win.”
In his memo, Mizoguchi encouraged a reimagining of Powderpuff as a different sporting event that could celebrate both cities. While the future of the tradition remains uncertain, the administration plans to leave the puff as we know it in the past.
“Traditions should be good,” Mizoguchi said. “They need to be safe, they need to be inclusive, they need to align with our values. When they don’t, then we have a responsibility as a community to re-evaluate how we do things here.