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Inside the Evil Empire

By Dan Bauer, Contributor, 03/02/23, 9:45AM CST


Disclaimer: All opinions expressed in Lockroom Logic are solely those of Dan Bauer and do not reflect the opinions of Wisconsin Prep Hockey or its partners. Dan presents his opinions based upon his lifetime of teaching and coaching experience and we present them unedited.

The Galactic Empire in Star Wars was accused of enslaving the masses and multiple genocides, including the destruction of whole planets.  The glistening white armor of the Storm Troopers, traditionally the mark of the good guys, is universally recognized as evil.

WIAA hockey has a different Storm, dressed in maroon, black and white jerseys, the Central Wisconsin Storm. While this Storm doesn’t have any “Troopers” and have committed none of the atrocities listed above, they are generally despised as one of girl’s hockey’s “Evil Empires”. I have been inside this organization, then outside and back inside again. Now, for the first time ever, I will give you a transparent look inside this despised mega co-op!

From behind the iron curtain, I can tell you this program looks… well, honestly, no different than any other. Sorry to disappoint those who are so quick to point out the many sins of the program. Truth is we are not even close to the biggest co-op in terms of the number of schools or total enrollment. Yet that claim is routinely lodged against us. Like everyone else we must stay within a proposed budget, fight for quality practice ice time, compete with the boy’s team for game times, play before small crowds of parents, have players leave to play elsewhere and build a team unity with girls that only see each other at practice and games. Just like the rest, we drive around practicing in multiple rinks, get home late from games that are far away and must maintain our academics to stay eligible.

Honestly, nothing different to see here!

I have coached single school teams and multi-team co-ops on both the boys and girls sides. They all look pretty much the same, but the perceptions from outside are vastly inaccurate. When I took the Waupaca girls job, prior to the Wisconsin Valley Union being formed, I was voted Coach of the Year in the Great Northern Conference. I remember the conference meeting and how everyone had such wonderful things to say about me and the job I had done. A year later, when we formed WVU, most of those same coaches wouldn’t even talk to me. To them, the Union, was just another “evil empire” contrived to win state championships. I was the same guy, just wearing a different logo on my hat.

After a year of guiding the Waupaca Ice, we formed WVU because we were looking at a team with only eight skaters. The administration told me to “recruit girls from the hallways” to fill the team. I was told it is done in football, so why couldn’t it be done in hockey? When I had to explain the complexities of teaching someone to skate versus running, I knew I wanted no part of that situation, or a team based on that flawed philosophy.

That brings me to my first question to those who simply want every co-op to split and follow the “recruit girls from the hallways” method. Is WIAA girls’ hockey improved if we have more teams, but a lower quality of play? Are we better off with smaller teams, inexperienced players and everybody expected to compete at a varsity level? In that scenario even more of our top end girls would look elsewhere to play. I would disagree that this is the path to growing the girl’s game.

There is a reason why virtually every high school sport field junior varsity teams. It is because for the majority of freshman it is the pace and skill level where they belong and will have the best chance to succeed while building their skills and confidence. Hockey is no different when it comes to the value of having a junior varsity program for players to develop.

From the outside, every co-op with a roster of more than thirty is deemed one that should split apart. First, without seeing a breakdown of players by school, how can you make that uninformed assumption? It is reckless and damaging to the girl’s game. A look inside the Storm numbers would indicate that a split is possible. However, before you start designing a new logo, there are factors that must be considered. What do the future participation numbers look like and how might open enrollment come into play? What if five girls from one of the “new” programs decides the other team is going to be better and they open enroll? How do the two programs plan for that wild card? They say breaking up is hard to do and I would concur that with open enrollment in play, it is an unpredictable and uncontrollable X factor that cannot be ignored.

Once that first hurdle is cleared there are others that must be considered. Do the ice facilities involved have enough ice time for another high school team? Unlike gymnasiums and athletic fields, most cities have a very limited number of ice sheets being shared by many entities. With four high school teams, two youth organizations, figure skating and a junior team, the answer in the greater Wausau area right now is no. A Storm split won’t provide another rink to choose from, just add another team to an already filled up ice schedule.

Finally, and if all the other considerations weren’t enough, there needs to be a school district that is willing to take on the significant financial commitment to hockey. The truth here is the most likely candidates for this move are the small towns that had their own program but had to co-op because of their low numbers. Towns like Waupaca and Spooner have great pride in their high school sports and want hockey to be one of them. On the boy’s side there is now an incentive with the two divisions, on the girl’s side there is not. There is a much greater probability that a small school will want to return to a single school program, than a successful co-op deciding they should split. Would two divisions spur growth in small school girl’s programs, while at the same time reducing co-ops?

The co-op haters will simply dismiss all those factors above and maintain that the evil empires just want to win and will never break up. They see all those obstacles as excuses. In reality, they are legitimate and challenging issues that must be considered and resolved. Solutions are seldom as simple as they appear, especially when you don’t do your homework.

Bashing programs is easy with today’s social media that allows you to say anything you want with no regard for the truth. The girl’s you are demonizing just want to play hockey and they are somebodies’ daughter, not just a number on your hypothetical spreadsheet. They are dedicated, they sacrifice, they work hard, they wish deep down they could play for their high school and wear their school colors. They wish their stands were full of their peers from their school.

These girls are not villains, they just want to play.

When you win a lot of games it is easy to disregard those teams who don’t and when that happens the “evil empire” monicker is perhaps deserved. I have also been on both sides of that won-loss continuum, so I understand and respect both perspectives. When adults spend time pointing fingers and exchanging reckless accusations, they look childish and quite frankly a little evil! Celebrating the end of any team’s season is a display of immaturity you can expect from kids, but not adults.

Evil Empires are for the movies and the New York Yankees, they don’t exist in high school sports.

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Dan Bauer is a free-lance writer, retired teacher & hockey coach in Wausau, WI. You can contact him at

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