When I first started playing hockey, I looked as clueless and unskilled as anyone else would when doing something they’d never done before. I didn’t know how to put my equipment on, my skates were loose, and I fell… a lot. The careers of most female high school hockey players usually begin at a time when they’re young, between the ages of roughly five and eight.
Mine, however, began at fifteen as a freshman in high school.
I don’t score a lot of goals. I don’t always defend the right area of the ice. I make a fair share of bad passes. Despite this though, I still, after three years, smile in awe that I’ve been lucky enough to pursue my dream of becoming a hockey player. Staring up into the rafters during the national anthem before puck-drop was my favorite moment on game nights. In just a few short years, though, the Methuen Tewksbury Red Ranger girls ice hockey program has made it impossible for me to enjoy the simple things that I used to, such as practicing daily, wearing my uniform with pride, and even standing on the blue line during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner.
Methuen High School (MHS) and Tewksbury Memorial High School (TMHS) have been bound by a cooperative agreement since the establishment of the girls’ hockey program. This has been due to the small amount of players from both towns. In the past, the program has also had to accept middle school athletes from the districts in order to fill their bench. Recently, however, an influx in interest has resulted in the acquisition of more athletes than the program can support, and, in response, the Red Rangers have made questionable decisions to handle the situation.
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) governs high school sports and cooperative teams with a set of policies outlined on their website. In particular, the following rules are applied to co-op teams like the Methuen Tewksbury program:
“8. Cooperative teams would only be approved if such was required to support a single varsity program. If sub-varsity opportunities presented themselves subsequently, then that would not interfere with the approval status of that varsity cooperative team. On the other hand, approval will not be granted for stand-alone sub-varsity teams.
“12. A cooperative team cannot result in the displacing of students from the host school; i.e. host school students may not be cut from participation in that sport (at any level).”
During the 2016-17 season, seven girls practiced with the high school varsity team but were never issued uniforms and were not permitted to participate in any games. Instead, they played in a separate small series of scrimmages against other schools’ junior varsity teams. A number of girls who were, conversely, allowed to dress and stand on the bench during varsity games played down alongside these girls during their games. Although the seven displaced girls were invited to accompany the team on bus rides to any regular season games and cheer from the crowd, the program failed to make room for them once the playoffs began, thus they were unable to attend those games unless they could provide transportation for themselves.
With the 2017-18 season underway, the Red Rangers again face a similar predicament as last year, with more girls wanting to play than the program has spots for. This year, six MHS girls were placed on a “skills development” team for the season. While the varsity team meets daily for a scheduled hour and twenty minutes of ice-time in addition to off-ice practices occurring usually twice a week, this small group of girls meets once a week with a first-time ice hockey coach to practice for an hour, has one weekly game played alongside some of the varsity girls, and is only invited to join the varsity team for their off-ice training sessions. The girls on this team do not benefit from provisions the varsity program has recently acquired, such as a remodeled locker room, brand new uniforms and equipment bags, as well as three experienced coaches. Despite the coaching staff insisting that this team is not a junior varsity program, a senior banner printed and displayed in the team’s home rink for one of the six displaced explicitly categorizes her as a junior varsity hockey player. Although an official roster has yet to be released, the girls so far have not been named in articles written about the team and have been excluded from group photos, failing to acknowledge their presences entirely.
The MIAA handbook also states in the Coaches’ Code of Ethics that coaches “shall never place the value of winning above the value of instilling the highest desirable ideals of character”. For some athletes who have been Red Rangers for multiple years, the total amount of in-game ice time they’ve accrued has not surpassed even one period’s worth, while others have tallied entire games’ worth of ice time in one season alone. This year, some athletes will not record even one second of ice time in a varsity game. While it is extreme to accuse the program of behavior that is not conducive with this code, one might wonder why such discriminating arrangements have been made regarding the team.
For me, the hardest thing about the segregation has been not playing hockey every day with my best friend, who practices with varsity, dresses for varsity games, and also participates in the games that I play in. This is the last year of my high school career, as a student and an athlete. Morale is low in the six girls who have been watching the hockey season fly by with little to show for it. Some have settled for the circumstances with the resolve that it’s better to play some hockey than no hockey at all, while others are frustrated but aren’t sure what to do. We just want to play hockey every day like the other girls get to. Even during our infrequent games, the girls that play down from the varsity team are in the starting lineup and get to play more on power plays and penalty kills.
For the Methuen Tewksbury Red Rangers, it would appear that the price of a winning team has only increased since my first year on the team, during which I practiced daily, played in games, and always stood on the blue line for the national anthem. This year, the program has elected to pay the bill by displacing athletes and taking away what the other hockey players don’t think twice about having, regardless of the MIAA regulations.
But every decision comes at a price.
Tell us about your spring, your summer, your fall - what did you do to make yourself a better player? After last year's disappointment, how many hours a week, on average, did you spend on the ice and in the gym in the 39 weeks from March to November to earn a spot on varsity? What camps and clinics did you attend? Who was your skills coach? Your strength coach?
When I wasn’t giving my boyfriend a handy in the high school parking lot I was working on my make up
This particular high school offers girls ice hockey as a no cut sport because they are a co-op school team. Therefore, yes, players who try-out for the team and are willing to put the effort in are entitled to ice time. The program can choose to have one varsity team or create an additional junior varsity team. However, instead, the program has one varsity team and segregated a handful of other girls, as a way of cutting them from the sport without cutting them. I explained in my original post that I’m not as good as the other girls in the program and I’ve only had a few years of experience. I’m not opposed to being on a sub-varsity team, but I am opposed to the actions the program has taken, such as supplying an inexperienced coach for the small group of girls as well as not creating two separate teams like the rulebook suggests. These girls are willing to put the time and effort in to improve, but the program only allows them to practice one day each week.
A lot of the training I did in the off season was individually lead strength and conditioning, as ice time is scarcely available in my area unless you have the money to afford clinics. I went to pre-season captain’s practices and invested in better equipment for the upcoming season. I worked for what I wanted, which was an opportunity to play hockey every day for the winter sports season, an opportunity offered to high school athletes of all other sports and levels. The program had more girls try out than they had spots for, thus, because they couldn’t cut girls after tryouts due to the MIAA rules, they scheduled one practice a week for them despite the school having their own ice rink. I don’t understand how my preparation for the season factors into their breaking of the rules. I didn’t sign up to play hockey because it was a no-cut sport or because I thought it would be an easy way to get a varsity letter. I signed up because I love hockey and I wanted more than anything to be a hockey player. A lot of girls start when they’re young. I’ve had to work hard to improve as much as I have. I don’t assume I’ll get better just with each passing day, nor do I believe that one day of ice time a week will allow me and the other girls to improve much when skating is what we struggle with the most.
You're making excuses. Get some outside help with your skating. That alone will make a difference for you. I watched no less than 6 girls do the same routine as you while my own were playing, start as freshman never having played or even skated before. 3 of them sought out additional help with their skills, 3 did not. By their Junior years the 3 that had sought additional instruction, were 3rd line players. By Senior year one was an AC, all 3 were then 2nd line players. The other 3? They were still the grocery sticks between the Forwards and D on the bench. Hockey is the hardest sport in the world to take up late. If you aren't willing to put in hours, and I mean HOURS, of extra work to attempt to even improve your skill level, you don't deserve the ice time over the girls who are.
I say this to you as a parent of 3 children who played this sport. 1 played in college. 1 was invited to US Team U18 tryouts and turned them down, 1 never played beyond sophomore year of hs. The one who played in college? Was the LEAST naturally talented of the three. Used the dream of playing in college to motivate and drive and continuously work outside of practice to improve. Would sit on the floor while watching tv playing with a golf ball and mini stick for hours without looking at their hands. Shoot in the driveway for hours on end. Daily. That's working on stick handling and shooting. Worked with a skating coach on edge work and more powerful starts and strides. The other 2 that it came naturally to did no extra work, had all their high level teams pretty much handed to them as soon as they stepped on the ice and showed what they could do. But they didn't have the drive. They didn't have the dream. It sounds to me like you don't really have a dream beyond playing pond or beer league after high school, at least that's what your effort in between seasons shows. Varsity sports are not and should not be "participation trophy" level sports. If those younger than you have been working their butts off and are earning playing time by doing so, then the onus is on you to work harder and get better and earn your own time.
Lot of "tough love" but lots of lessons to be learned, too. Hockey is an unnatural sport. If you didn't skate from the end of one season to the start of another, there is no way you will even keep your skill level, let alone improve. The numbers worked against you, more girls came intot he prtogram that werre either better than you already or worked harder to improve, and you ended up on the wrong side of the "no cut" line.
No money for clinics? You could have stickhandled in the driveway or schoolyard. You could have bought a pair of used Inline skates at Play It Again Sports. Hundreds of hours of practice for $50. You could have worked off the ice time, trading time as a counselor or off ice admin help for time in the clinic. You could have done chores at home or cut out other expenses like your cell phone and online music in exchange for money from your parents.
Yes, it's easier to say "they didn't play by the rules." You're 18, or will be soon. Guess what? Life isn't fair.
I guess it's easier for you to tell a high school student that "life isn't fair" than admit to the existence of a flawed program run by adults. Life isn't fair, but that doesn't mean you can't speak up and try to fix the things that make it that way. Let's say that, theoretically, every athlete in this program worked just as hard and improved just as much as one another this past off season. After tryouts, there would still be six girls in the position I'm in. Would it then be a case of this ungrateful, lazy, indifferent attitude I'm accused of having? No. It would boil down to the program's inability to accommodate appropriately for the influx of interest.
I agree, varsity sports are not and should not be participation trophy types of sports. Varsity athletes should work outside of practice to improve. But, as I stated before, I do not have an issue with not being on the varsity team. I have an issue, rather, with the program's decision to create a make-shift JV team that consists of a handful of girls and allows them to practice only once a week with an inexperienced coach. I cannot think of any other sport, at my high school at least, that practices once a week. A sport is a school facilitated extra curricular. The program is trying to pass this group off as a club team, despite saying that it is not. At the end of the day, these are high school sports teams, not college, not the pros. These girls all love hockey equally as much, regardless of whether or not they'll become olympic gold medalists or pond hockey players after high school. Again, I don't see how skill level factors into the program not abiding by the rules.
I would rather go watch a chess match than watch girls hockey. It's great they are playing, but please. It's painful hockey to watch. And it seems the parents are crazier than boys. Face it folks, it's the equivalent to watching a boys pee wee game.
I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you haven't seen good girls' teams play each other. You are right about the parents. OP, the reality is you are competing now - most likely against girls that came up through boys' teams - step up or stay put but you aren't helping anyone by whining - only enforcing stereotypes about girls that players in this sport have worked hard to shed.
It seems to me the problem with fully funding a full JV team with its own daily or every other day practices is funding. What have you attempted to do for fundraising to raise these funds? What conversations have you had with the AD and coaches about getting some kind of alumni game or outdoor pond hockey fundraiser game set up to raise more money for the girls program? What conversations have you had with the school board regarding sports team fee's and whether there is an increased fee for hockey or is it the same as others? If it's the same as others and money is short, maybe discussing increasing the fee for hockey is the next step. Many schools have a higher fee for hockey than their other sports. Even if you are graduating this year, if you care about the growth of your schools program you will get involved and stay involved in the fundraising aspect. It WILL make a difference. Are you up to the challenge?
Cam, a well-written and researched piece but the initial post failed to clearly state the resolution you desire (your follow-ups made it more apparent). You also drive home what too many on this board forget, ‘benders’ are real people. The fact some on this thread have ‘slammed’ you is shameful. This is a teenager. One that is far braver than many here: she said enough the coaches should be able to determine who she is.
You are looking for fairness, I believe what you really want is answers. I am hopeful I can help.
Some background on me: I use this ‘name’ so my posts can be traced; I am a strong advocate for girls ice hockey; I tend to be long-winded at times (and will be here); I am currently an assistant coach for a girls high school team; our team has played your team yearly; I know and respect your coaching staff.
It will be helpful for all to know that M/T has been moved up to the MVC large league this year. This has created some challenges: there were at least 2 MVC small teams that were very weak – so weak it would allow teams like M/T to play their less skilled players for a good portion of those (four) games. Those teams were not required and did play M/T this year. They were replaced with very competitive teams. The MVC large is much more competitive than the small. M/T has been at or near the top of the rankings for several years (5+) under two different coaches. Methuen has a rink within the high school building. I have scouted this team twice this season, they run 3 forward lines and 2 defensive lines into the third, then shrink the bench. At the league meeting JV teams were a hot topic: every coach was looking for games.
Cam, a couple of important distinctions need to be made, ones I assume were either not clearly stated by the coaching staff or overlooked by you: the coaching staff coaches, the AD (similar to a GM at the pro levels) set the parameters the coaches must follow. While the coaches have a strong voice and work closely with the AD, ultimately it is the AD (or above) that dictates what the coaches can and cannot offer. Although you are frustrated with the lack of ice time for the JV team, this is VERY common. Ice costs separate this sport from all others and those costs are part of the budget, notwithstanding your rink is within its building.
Some of your comments in particular:
--"[M/T] has made it impossible for me to enjoy the simple things that I used to, such as practicing daily, wearing my uniform with pride, and even standing on the blue line during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner."
M/T had a couple of lean years. It was during this period that you were allowed to dress and even play. Nearly every team has this challenge. As the numbers increase, someone at some point will be disappointed. When my oldest (boy) was a freshman the team had 24 tryout, by his senior year it was 45. They went from cobbling a JV team together to cutting players in 4 years.
--"A cooperative team cannot result in the displacing of students from the host school; i.e. host school students may not be cut from participation in that sport (at any level).”
You are confusing PARTICIPATION with a TEAM. They cannot ‘cut’ you but they can place you on a V, JV or even a practice squad team. Nearly every coaches meeting with our AD he clearly states he wants participation AND that JV and freshman teams are part of that. To change the culture he wanted the coaches to stop with the term ‘cut’ and instead use ‘earn’. As in: everyone is on the JVs but you earn a V spot.
--"seven girls practiced with the high school varsity team but were never issued uniforms and were not permitted to participate in any games. Instead, they played in a separate small series of scrimmages against other schools’ junior varsity teams."
Many teams, including boys, do this: practice with V and play only JV. My youngest did this as a sophomore. Our boys team has done with for years (5 on practice squad), they are not a co-op. I know that at least two other MVC girl teams that do the same.
The MIAA allows 20 skaters and 2 goalies to be on the bench during games. Therefore many programs only have 22 game jerseys, back to the budget.
--"the program failed to make room for them once the playoffs began, thus they were unable to attend those games unless they could provide transportation for themselves."
As a coach is this is a challenge. Last week we were up by 1 after 2, but clearly on our heels. Those playing were visually upset walking to the locker room (good sign). But the 3 fourth liners were ‘joking’. We all knew they would not be playing that night, but to have that distraction to those that were, especially in the playoffs I can fully understand.
--"This year, six MHS girls were placed on a “skills development” team for the season… the girls so far have not been named in articles written about the team and have been excluded from group photos, failing to acknowledge their presences entirely."
They are NOT on the varsity team, this is no different than any other JV or freshman team.
--"The MIAA…states…coaches “shall never place the value of winning above the value of instilling the highest desirable ideals of character”."
You are misinterpreting the meaning. This does NOT mean winning is not important, just that you should not win ‘at all costs’. This is not about who or playing time but rather allowing a player that is otherwise ineligible to play (grades, attendance, substance, address). This could include having a rule that you must practice the day before but then ‘oh that does not apply to her’.
--"This year, some athletes will not record even one second of ice time in a varsity game. While it is extreme to accuse the program of behavior that is not conducive with this code, one might wonder why such discriminating arrangements have been made regarding the team."
This is a playing time issue. The MIAA does NOT have requirements that eligible players must have playing time.
--"Morale is low in the six girls who have been watching the hockey season fly by with little to show for it. Some have settled for the circumstances with the resolve that it’s better to play some hockey than no hockey at all, while others are frustrated but aren’t sure what to do…only increased since my first year on the team, during which I practiced daily, played in games, and always stood on the blue line for the national anthem."
Your expectations, no doubt fed during the early (low player count) years, have been skewed. The circumstances have changed and you must do so as well.
--"Therefore, yes, players who try-out for the team and are willing to put the effort in are entitled to ice time."
This is just wrong. The coach sets the standards of playing time. Most, myself included, place a higher value on ability than effort. You are attempting to move/alter ‘the bar’ to suit what you have to offer.
--"program can choose to have one varsity team or create an additional junior varsity team. However, instead, the program has one varsity team and segregated a handful of other girls, as a way of cutting them from the sport without cutting them."
This is the AD’s (and to lesser extent the coaches) call. Typically they wait a couple of years to see if there is SUSTAINED interest. You realize that 7 years ago: Tewksbury, Methuen, Lowell, Dracut, Haverhill and Pentucket had no HS skating opportunities for girls. They do now, because the interest was there. As the program strengthens then adding a JV team may occur.
--"I am opposed to the actions the program has taken, such as supplying an inexperienced coach"
Putting aside how you, with such limited experience, can make this determination – JV coaches are the bottom of the chain, the better ones are quickly promoted or ‘taken’.
--"ice time is scarcely available in my area unless you have the money to afford clinics."
EVERY rink has public skate at least weekly and most have stick practice (Ward Hill charges $10). There are at least six rinks within 20 minutes of Methuen. You cannot expect to compete without putting in serious effort especially because you are behind. And if you cannot afford these clinics (Dynamic skating had a weekly in the fall for $300) then you need to lower YOUR expectations for playing time.
No ice? Take a golf ball and stick handle (a puck is breeze after that) in the driveway, shoot 50+ pucks a day over the summer, there are countless others.
--"I went to pre-season captain’s practices"
This is the minimum. So you did not play in their summer or fall teams?
--"invested in better equipment for the upcoming season."
Poor choice of your limited resources. You should have polled the team for their ‘hand me downs’ and used the savings for a clinic. I have four children, they all wore used equipment at some point. And I have never paid more than $100 for stick. I must have 20 of them in the garage now.
SO WHAT TO DO NOW ---
Reset your expectations: enjoy the game not the level. Looking forward, there are many colleges that offer club or intermural teams to ANYONE. If you continue to work hard you will see results. We had a three year ‘newbie’ come back from college to skate with us. Her improvement is remarkable. She is enjoying her club team and gets to play against old teammates. But even then she would not be on our top 3 lines (a/k/a limited playing time).
I hope this is helpful, I will respond as time permits, to any follow up questions or comments.
Beatcuff, you "slammed" people for "slamming" the OP, but other than one inapproriately sexist comment, I don't see anyone that "slammed" the OP. in fact, most of the comments were along the same lines as what you said, just in 1/25th as many words.
I don't understand how you can see it as appropriate to pick apart every single thing the OP wrote as being inaccurate, and label the responses of others as not appropriate. but, you go on thinking you are the voice of reason, and everyone else fools.
Gotta Take it One Shift at a Time, we didn't bring our A game in the first. Need to win more battles.