Popular yes – but will there ever be a high school hockey team? | PostIndependent.com

Popular yes – but will there ever be a high school hockey team?

Post Independent/Kelley Cox Jimmy Carter, of the Glenwood Grizzlies, challenges an Aspen player in a recent game at the Glenwood Springs Community Center.

It’s not America’s pastime.It doesn’t take place on a gridiron or a hardwood floor decorated with free-throw lines and 3-point arches. Hockey is in a league of its own. It is a unique sport that requires grace, agility and speed. “Hockey is a lot different from other sports. It’s really fun,” said Keenan Hartert, a player on the Glenwood Youth Hockey Midget team who also plays football and soccer for Glenwood Springs High School. “You can say that it is like soccer and football, but with lots of differences. It mixes the finesse of soccer with the brutality of football.”Although some people may not think hockey compares to more traditional sports like football and basketball, GYH president Larry MacDonald disagrees.”One of the biggest things that people say is that kids love football, they love baseball, they love soccer, they love basketball, but put a hockey stick in their hands and we’ll find out where their true love is,” MacDonald said.Unique sportGYH Midget head coach Tim Cota agrees that hockey is a sport like no other.”It is the best team sport to play. It is fast and fun,” Cota said. “It is a fast sport. It takes a high skill level. It’s addicting.”Apparently, his players agree.”I am kind of bored without (hockey). When the season ends, I don’t know what to do with myself. It’s like a void,” said one of the Glenwood Midget captains, Grayson Hussey. “It is 10 times better than any other sport,” added assistant captain Trevor Kroeger, who has also played football, basketball and ran track.GYH, a hockey program consisting of five age levels (Mite, Squirt, Peewee, Bantam and Midget) made up of 110 players ages 8-18, has been around for seven years. It started slow as the teams were forced to play at the rodeo grounds in Carbondale for the first two years. Between 40-50 players commuted to play then, but since the ice rink was built at the Glenwood Springs Community Center, participant numbers have sky-rocketed.”When we started seven years ago there were 40-50 kids. Now there are 110,” Cota said. “The numbers have been growing every year. We have 30 (at the midget level) this year and that is the most we have ever had.”Hockey may not have a distinguished past here in Glenwood, but with numbers and interest on the rise, it may have a bright future.Hockey interest on the riseInterest in hockey on the high school level is on the rise in Colorado. Currently, 20 schools – located mostly on the Front Range – field teams and compete for a Colorado High School Activities Association sanctioned state championship.That number, according to CHSAA assistant commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green, rises to 25 for the 2006-07 season.”Hockey is a big growth sport right now for teams making the jump from club to high school,” said Blanford-Green. “Kids want to play for their high schools and play for a state championship.”

Hockey was sanctioned by the CHSAA in 1976, but the bulk of the sport’s growth has taken place within the past 10 years. Four Western Slope high schools – Aspen, Battle Mountain (Vail), Steamboat Springs and Summit (Frisco) – are among the 20 schools currently fielding varsity-level squads. All four programs are less than six years old.New teams ready to compete next year are Ralston Valley, Stanley Lake, Columbine, Chatfield and Dakota Ridge – all located in Denver suburbs.Making it happenThe procedure for a CHSAA-member school to field a team in an association-sanctioned sport is easy.”A school wishing to field a hockey team has to send a letter to the board of control in April before the following season,” Blanford-Green said. “We have to do that because of scheduling. Hockey teams play a 19-game schedule and they all have to clear rink time for games.”The hardest part for a member high school to get a program started is funding.”We have to be sure of the funding before allowing a school to play,” said CHSAA’s Bert Borgmann. Models for obtaining required funds vary. The budget for Aspen High’s hockey team is split three ways.”Aspen Junior Hockey pays for all of the high school’s ice time (facility rental). The high school pays the coaches, referees and travel expenses and the school’s booster club pays for uniforms,” said Aspen Junior Hockey president Rick Newton.Cost for Battle Mountain’s program exceeds $20,000 annually. A price tag Vail Daily sports editor Chris Freud said is about one-third of the high school’s total athletic budget.The burden to absorb those funds comes from the parents and players. In turn, the only profit Battle Mountain earns from the hockey team comes in the form of gate receipts after paying game expenses.One of the requirements to field a high school team is to have an enclosed rink. Currently, the rink at the community center is not enclosed.Obstacles and money woes aside, hockey continues to grow.Grand Junction recently laid a foundation for an enclosed ice rink. That facility is scheduled for completion this spring. Eagle Valley, with a nearby enclosed rink nearby, could take the plunge soon.Other Western Slope towns like Craig have strong club hockey programs. Smaller communities like Oak Creek (SOROCO High School), east of Steamboat Springs, also field youth club teams.The only barriers to future growth of high school hockey on the Slope are an indoor rink, money and cooperation between the school and the parents.Midgets are getting stronger The Glenwood Midgets are part of a growing organization with its popularity growing faster than a blazing slap shot. Its becoming more organized and has consistent and growing numbers. They also have a home rink. As a team, they are becoming strong enough to be a high school team.

A natural step that some would like to see happen.”I think (joining Glenwood Springs High School) would be a good thing. As long as I have been here I have been wanting it to be affiliated with the school,” said Midget coach Cota. “It was our thinking that we needed to take five years to establish ourselves and then we would be able to pursue it actively. We are approaching that crossroads now.”The midget age division is 15-18 for boys and 15-19 for girls.Aspen has a club program that includes the same five levels (mite, squirt, peewee, bantam and midget) as Glenwood’s, but also fields a CHSSA-sanctioned team in addition to their midget squad.”I’d like to see it become a program like Aspen’s where they have a Midget Major A team as well as a high school team,” Cota said. “It is basically the same team, but they just play different schedules.”As far as team members wanting the club team to make the transition to GSHS, feelings are mixed.”I did want it to be part of the high school because it would make things a lot easier with stuff like traveling,” said Hussey.He has reservations about hockey becoming a high school sport because he attends Colorado Mountain College and hasn’t turned 19 yet. Hussey, and others in his situation, can still play for GYH as long as they are under 19.Hussey also believes that more people have the opportunity to play hockey when they can play for a club team as opposed to team that’s specific to one high school.”Kids that don’t get good grades wouldn’t be able to play because they wouldn’t make the grades. We have kids from Rifle, New Castle, all around the Basalt area and even some kids from Grand Junction.”Might happen in the futureHartert thinks joining the high school may happen down the road.”I would love (playing hockey for GSHS). I think it would be better and easier,” he said. “But I also understand how difficult it is to get it into the athletic department. I don’t think that it will happen while I’m here, but maybe in the future. It will probably happen when (GYH) becomes super stable.”One major setback of securing a team at GSHS is that the rink at the Community Center isn’t enclosed, which is not only a CHSAA requirement, but also needed so the team can practice year-round. “When we play other teams that have year-round facilities, you can see the level that they are at compared to ours,” said GYH president MacDonald. “If we had a year-round program and kids could skate during the summer, it would really grow and our competitive abilities would be higher.”Although that is a change that could happen, it is one that would require a lot of support from the city of Glenwood.”It is a game of chess with this city. We’ll have to see how it is going to play out. The city goes back and forth trying to figure out what programs to cut and what they have funding for,” MacDonald said. “What I would love to see is for the city to step up and run the rink 10 months out of the year so kids can play in the summer and we can have camps here in Glenwood.” Low on the priority listHockey at Glenwood Springs High School is low on the priority list.

“We’ve never been approached about it,” said GSHS Athletic Director Steve Cable. That doesn’t mean the sport won’t be part of the high school’s athletic program in the future.Right now, student interest in high school hockey is meager to non-existent, according to Cable.Basketball remains the most popular sport at GSHS. Head boys basketball coach Kevin Flohr said his program has not been impacted by club-level hockey. He didn’t say whether or not he thought adding hockey as a high school sport would impact interest in basketball.Hockey is also a high-dollar sport where sufficient funds is a key component toward putting a Demons hockey team on the ice.The last sport Glenwood High added was wrestling when it returned to GSHS last year. The sport was dropped from the school in the 1990s.Factors, Cable said, to bringing back wrestling were the number of Glenwood students involved, along with the school district’s fielding a team at other area high schools in the district.”The district never dropped wrestling,” Cable said. “It’s been at Roaring Fork, then at Basalt – the reason we brought it back to Glenwood is the majority of the kids on the team were enrolled here.”More than 80 percent of the 2005-06 wrestling team, according to it’s Web site, are GSHS students.Funding the revamped program, Cable said, came through a variety of sources.Mats, originally, came from other district schools. The GSHS athletic department contributed some money. The rest, mostly for team uniforms and additional items were obtained through fundraisers organized by head coach Guy Brickell.So far as adding hockey, and other sports like girls softball and lacrosse. There is no current set procedures or process toward fielding new teams.”There is no cut and dried policy set by the (school) district at this time,” Cable said. “That’s something that the district is working on.”Club is strongFor the immediate future and beyond, hockey’s popularity will undoubtedly keep sliding upward; however, moving the sport to the high school playing arena will still require negotiating a number of obstacles.Whether or not the Glenwood hockey program moves to the high school level won’t matter. The sport’s popularity is showing no signs of slipping.”It would be hard to see this program peak out at such a young age. It has a lot of potential ahead of it,” said MacDonald. “Hockey on the Western Slope is going to continue to grow. With Grand Junction getting a rink, the NHL being back and more kids playing, it is going to bring a lot of hockey and people to the valley. Hockey is infectious.”Like any sport, the purity is not in the competition or the playing level, the purity exists on the opportunity.Right now, club hockey is king and the ice is right.Contact Joelle Milholm and Phil Sandoval at sports@postindependent.com

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