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Powderpuff: Past, present and future

Charlotte Thirman
The WHS powderpuff tradition has been under scrutiny by administration. “If there were a way for us to make this a fully safe event that celebrated our students and brought our communities together, then the school would sanction it,” Principal Allyson Mizoguchi said. We just have not been successful at doing that.”

The Wayland-Weston powderpuff flag football game is a WHS tradition, but it has come under fire in recent years with several concerns about the safety and merits of the game. Last year, administration announced that 2021 would be the last time powderpuff would take place. They reinforced this decision in October in meetings with student leaders, which led these leaders to organize the event without the school. In the week approaching the game, this debate has come up again, as students have expressed their opposition to administration’s decision.

“Last year’s seniors had a lot of emotion tied to it, which was only exacerbated 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 when we said it would be the last one.”

This message was reiterated through an email memo to parents of both schools on Nov. 18, by Mizoguchi and Weston Principal Paul Peri. They stated that the game was harmful to women, unsafe and contributed to an unhealthy relationship between the towns.

“To address some of the issues above, and in keeping with the practices of our peer schools, we will end the interscholastic powderpuff competition this year,” Mizoguchi and Peri said.

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With safety at the forefront of this debate, students and faculty have contrasting opinions about the safety of powderpuff football. In past years, players have sustained concussions, ACL tears and other injuries during the game.

“Having seen a number of students seriously injured by their participation in powderpuff, I’m inclined to agree with the administration’s decision,” English teacher Kelsey Pitcairn said. “As a teacher, it’s heartbreaking to see those injuries.”

Many students, as well as powderpuff players and coaches, have contrasting opinions about the threat of injury.

“Injury is likely in any sport,” powderpuff coach Connor Sheehan said. “I don’t think [the threat] is any higher than the boys playing, lower than that, even.”

Administration’s other concerns had to do with powderpuff itself being demeaning to women. Mizoguchi titled this issue “optics” in her memo, where she described the concern that the event can be an environment for derogatory fan behavior.

“There’s an interesting element to it that in its best version could be really exciting and fun, and in its worst version becomes demeaning and insulting to female athletes,” Mizoguchi said.

Several WHS students and powderpuff players and coaches are not concerned about this issue.

“It’s kind of a joke, it’s for fun,” senior powderpuff player Ashley Rice said.

When the event was discontinued last year, Student Council President Delia Caulfield, along with Weston Student Council President Grace Kirk, attempted to negotiate with their principals and find a plan to make the game happen as a school sanctioned event. After three meetings between the student leaders and principals, it became clear that these efforts would be unsuccessful.

“About a month before the game, they gave us the final no,” Kirk said. “Our meetings weren’t that productive, it felt like they were just pushing off giving us a final answer.”

Student leaders were able to reserve the WHS turf for the game, without administration’s consent. Students worked with parents and WHS faculty on the board of Wayland-Weston Youth Football, a community organization with the ability to book the field, in order to obtain this permit.

“The booking has to be through a community organization,” Caulfield said.

They also acquired a one-day insurance policy to protect against liability during the game, paid for by students and parents.

“In normal situations we wouldn’t have to deal with problems such as [insurance], but since we’re planning it on our own, we are in charge of getting the insurance all worked out,” Caulfield said.

However, on Friday, Nov. 18, Caulfield announced to players that the field reservation had been canceled, allegedly by the organization which booked it in the first place. The cancellation caused a hurried search for a new location.

“It came as a shock because just an hour prior, I was planning for the game, and in that short time frame, we just didn’t have the field anymore,” Caulfield said.

Mizoguchi and Peri sent the memo on the same day that the field permit was revoked. These two items had no correlation to each other, but the coincidence caused confusion in the community.

“They sent that out at a time when everything was up in the air, and we were almost getting to the day of the game,” Caulfield said. “I feel like it should have been sent out weeks ago if they really meant to relay that message.”

Speculation circulated that WHS administration had direct involvement in taking away the field reservation, an allegation which no sources have confirmed.

“When we sanctioned [powderpuff] individually, I’m confused on how it can still be regulated by the school,” senior and powderpuff player Madeline O’Leary said.

WHS Senior Austin Russell created a petition on to reinstate the permit, which amassed roughly 530 signatures. It was posted on Wayland Community Forum on Facebook, and garnered attention from WHS parents, alumni and community members. The initial post accumulated 100 comments.

“It’s ridiculous that [administration] is twisting the reality that injuries are caused by foul play, when the rules this year are trying to mitigate that,” Russell said.

On Sunday, Nov. 20, Mizoguchi sent out a second memo to students and families to announce that the powderpuff game will, in fact, occur on Wednesday, Nov. 23, at the WHS turf. She also stated that there will be medical staff on site, as well as Wayland and Weston school officials.

“All the things that would make it possible for us to confidently support this event, we are going to try to make happen to every extent possible,” Mizoguchi said.

However, this doesn’t mean that powderpuff is here to stay.

“We have informed folks what our expectations are, and this is the last year of this version of this event,” Mizoguchi said.

Some seniors are concerned with the loss of WHS culture, following the COVID-19 pandemic. These students feel as though the powderpuff issue is just one of many traditions which is being taken away.

“We’ve lost so many things already after being in high school with COVID-19,” Rice said. “No one’s really hearing us out, and they’re just trying to take more things away from us.”

Since the game has been confirmed, players and coaches have been preparing the athletic aspect of the event.

“We started practices late, we only have a couple days to prepare for this,” senior player Riley Leichliter said. “I hope we’re gonna win.”

In her memo, Mizoguchi encouraged a reimagining of powderpuff as a different athletic event that could celebrate the two towns. While the future of the tradition remains unclear, administration plans to leave powderpuff as we know it in the past.

“Traditions need to 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 do that, then we have a responsibility as a community to reevaluate how we do things here.”

This story was originally published on Wayland Student Press on November 23, 2022.