Trinity women fighting athletic inequalities as the field hockey team prepares to play in and host the NCAA DIII final four with ‘unimpressive’ facilities

·10 min read

On Sunday, the Trinity field hockey team had reason to celebrate after advancing to the NCAA Division III final four for the first time since 1998 and the third time in school history with a 2-0 win over Babson. Better yet, the Bantams will play on their home field as host of the final four for the first time this upcoming weekend.

The championship, however, will be played against the backdrop of a chorus of demands for change at the university. Women’s athletes, including members of the field hockey team, have called for a Title IX review, citing inequities in the athletic facilities on campus.

“I’m feeling excited, but it’s hard to fully embrace what’s happening and what we’re about the experience without also in the back of our minds, trying to prove a point that is not related to the game at all,” Trinity senior field hockey player India Shay said. “It’s frustrating because we should only be thinking about the success over the weekend and the hopeful success we’ll have next weekend.”

The NCAA requires 1,000 seats to host a final four, which Trinity has. The look — compared to what occurred on the football stadium side — is not exactly what the field hockey players expected. When the field hockey players arrived for preseason in August, the football stands in Jessee/Miller Field were being renovated and close to completion, but the field hockey stands on Robin L. Sheppard Field were not.

The two fields are adjacent with back-to-back stands and a press box on top in the middle of both fields. An initial rendition of the renovations had the football stands built up to the press box and a similar look on the field hockey side. Instead, the old field hockey bleachers and an equipment shed were removed, leaving no storage area for the team. A set of metal bleachers was subsequently installed and some older bleachers were brought in for additional seating. In the past week, temporary bleachers were added.

In response to the inequities, the women’s athletes at Trinity have formed a group called TrinWAL (Trinity College Women’s Athletics League) and started a petition that amassed over 2,000 signatures. They have met with Trinity athletic director Drew Galbraith and other college officials, and on Nov. 4, college president Joanne Berger-Sweeney sent a letter to the Trinity community promising support for the women and a Title IX audit.

“The proposed plan of a stadium capable of holding a total of 1,000 spectators on the sideline of Sheppard Field (women’s) in preparation for the hosting the NCAA final four and championship turned out to be an unimpressive set of five-row metal bleachers that were set up in a matter of days. Regardless of the plans, the end product on the Sheppard side is not the same quality, nor does it provide the same spectator experience, as the Miller side (men’s),” the online petition reads.

Galbraith said there was a misunderstanding and that the initial drawings should not have been shown to donors and others who provided money for the project, that the plan was not to build up the stands equally on both sides and that the project is still ongoing.

“We want going forward for Title IX to be built into project planning at Trinity,” said Emlyn Patry, a junior field hockey player from York, Maine. “It should be like an ADA compliance. And we want communication from the school because we were shown the photos of the renderings just like trustees and alumni were, to donate to it and then we had no communication until they were basically like, ‘Here’s the ribbon cutting ceremony.’ This is not OK.”

Series of miscommunications

The old Trinity wooden football press box still stands on the opposite side of Jessee/Miller Field. The press box and adjacent stands were condemned by the city of Hartford in 2017 and the other side of the stands was determined to be unsafe, Galbraith said. A structural engineer had to come and check the stands before every event.

In 2019, the school began to move forward with a renovation project for both Jessee/Miller Field and Robin L. Sheppard Field.

“Before the projects had received approval, kind of an idea phase, there was an image done looking at what a new Ferris [Gymnasium] addition could look like and it had what a potential stadium could look like,” Galbraith said. “And I believe the artist’s idea at that point was to reflect what was there for field hockey, because that was still kind of ‘We’re definitely going to do something with the field hockey stands, we have no idea [what].’ But this was the ‘Get a couple of people excited to have some momentum to go to trustees and say, ‘We want to do these things and get approval.’

“Somehow that image [of the football and field hockey stadiums] made its way into some material, some advance materials that were shown to people. It was not something we were showing regularly once we started the project and actually started designing it. It’s very regrettable that that was out there, no matter how it happened, to create any expectation that there was something different coming.”

The Trinity Tripod, the campus newspaper, reported that on March 23, 2021, an email was sent by Joe DiChristina, vice president for student success and enrollment, which announced the stadium construction was set to be finished in the fall of 2021. The email stated the complex would include, “New spectator stands for Trinity and visiting fans on Jessee/Miller and Sheppard fields that will offer comfortable, accessible and abundant capacity to enjoy games with clear lines of sight from any seat, a new press box supporting both fields and offering a modern, professional setting for media and coaching, two enclosed suites for spectating and stadium-related events, warming rooms for Trinity athletes and visiting teams for pregame, halftime and cold weather practices and modern, accessible restroom facilities.”

The field hockey players thought their field would be renovated by the time they returned to school in August. They were shocked when they showed up and saw the new football stands and a big white tower on the football side which houses an elevator to the top of the stands for handicapped access.

“Our side hadn’t been touched yet, minus the fact that all our bleachers had been gone from last year,” Patry said. “The athletic director came down a week or two into the preseason and said we’ll start to see changes on our side and it will look really good. Within a day, the bleachers on our side were built up and it was a set of five-row bleachers, which is less than what we had previously.

“We have less seating now, and they got rid of our equipment shed that had lighting and power for charging iPads for game film. So now we were told we could use a shipping container that they had left over after construction. What we got is less than what we had before, and it was set up in a day vs. the other side.

“We were upset. We don’t want Band-Aids on the problem. There are obviously systematic issues here on campus.”

Shay said the container is full of construction equipment and is locked. The field hockey players have had to store their equipment under the baseball stadium.

“We had a full shed with hooks and bins and everything, and they took it away. And now we have what looks like a dumpster on the opposite side of the field, and it looks bad,” Shay said.

Jim Shay, India’s father, donated what his daughter termed “a pretty significant sum” to the stadium project.

“The school forgot to inform the donors or some number of donors about the changes that were made after they pitched the donors,” Jim Shay said. “I received a very thorough, thoughtful kind apology for that from the school. As far as my upset goes, the school addressed it and I accepted their apology and I chalked it up to ‘Shit happens.’”

He does understand why his daughter is upset.

“It hasn’t been a great chapter in this realm, and I feel badly for everyone involved,” he said. “I feel bad for the athletes first and foremost, because most of the time, my kid will say this has been a pattern in places in life. My opinion is that these kinds of things are a slow drip. Drip, drip, drip. And over time, it erodes an individual’s feeling of self-worth or importance.”

Galbraith said there will eventually be permanent bleacher seating built up (although not as high as the football side) with permanent warming buildings and restrooms on the field hockey side.

Brewing for years

Trinity’s women athletes say issues involving inequity have been brewing for years, pointing to the softball team who has complained about playing on a grass field with no permanent stands, lights or press box and a scoreboard that doesn’t work all the time.

Softball has struggled with an inferiority complex for years. The baseball stadium, built in 2013, has artificial turf, permanent stands and permanent press box and lights. The softball field has none of that.

“This has been an ongoing issue since 2013, when the baseball field was donated originally and they had to match it with a softball field,” said Trinity softball player Meeka Bolduc, a senior third baseman. “Ever since then, it’s been kind of a rocky road for softball.

“The frustration really lies in the fact that we’ve been dealing with this for years. Coaches and parents and alumni have expressed their frustration and concerns that the program has not been dealt with on the same level as baseball.”

The players said they were told the city of Hartford wouldn’t allow the school to put in any more artificial turf after studies at the time indicated that the particles in the turf might be cancer-causing — but field hockey and football and baseball all had turf. They were also told that they couldn’t have lights because the city said the school already had enough lights and there were light pollution concerns.

Title IX does not require specific sports like baseball and softball to be treated the same, Title IX expert Donna Lopiano said. Instead, the athletic department as a whole has to be assessed.

“If I were a Title IX consultant and I went in to assess, the one rule we have to follow is that you compare all the facilities for women to all the facilities for men, then an equal proportion of those athletes need to be similarly served,” said Lopiano, a former chief executive officer of the Women’s Sports Foundation and current president of Sports Management Resources.

Galbraith said that the softball field issues are being looked into, with the primary concerns being the addition of permanent stands, a press box and the repair of the scoreboard. He said the school would approach the city of Hartford again and ask about lights and artificial turf.

“The idea that there’s pain among our female student-athletes and they don’t feel they’ve been treated equitably in general was more surprising,” he said. “That’s something we’ve got to work on.”

Lori Riley can be reached at

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