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Re: Girls Ice Hockey

Cam
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.
Wait. Girls play hockey?