This is an Editorial Rebuttal to Dan Bauer’s Mission Incomplete article.
I will agree with Dan that there is a great imbalance in Wisconsin girls high school hockey. Unlike Dan, I don’t believe that the dwindling numbers in Wisconsin girls hockey are something that can be fixed by the WIAA. The WIAA didn’t create this “problem” and there isn’t much they can do to fix it. Like I do with most problems in youth hockey, I’m going to lay the blame for the problem on the usual suspects – parents. Too many hockey parents who want what is best for their daughter instead of what is best for the program as a whole. They have taken girls hockey away from being a high school sport and made it into a club sport.
To illustrate my point, I am going to use my favorite foil, the Central Wisconsin Storm. They weren’t the first of the big co-ops, nor are they the worst. I’ll give other examples later. The Storm, at least from my perspective, is an example of how not to grow girls hockey in Wisconsin.
To show the whole picture, we need to go back and look at girls hockey in central Wisconsin before the Storm was created. I went through the Wisconsin Amateur Hockey Association site, where they have state tournament participants and results dating back to 2002. As recently as 2009, Everest Youth Hockey had their girls U10 team, Wausau had their U12 team, and Mosinee had their U14 team participating in state tournaments. These three groups combined to make the Central Wisconsin Storm high school team. I saw that Stevens Point and Marshfield also had teams at state.
I can buy the argument that in 2010, none of the individual schools that make up the Storm had enough players to field a high school team, and I have no problem with the creation of the Storm. The problem is that they also merged their youth teams into one Central Wisconsin Storm Youth Association.
For the life of me, I can’t imagine what their rationale was for doing this, unless it was, as Dan suggests, to create a powerhouse team at the youth level. Mosinee was one of the pioneers in this area for girls hockey. Mosinee has a long, rich hockey tradition and they had a budding girls program. I know it must have been easy to get the local youth associations to agree to create the youth co-op. 70-80 percent of the youth skaters were boys, and their parents would have made up most of the association boards. Making a co-op out of your girls teams means they need less ice time at your rink. Nothing is more sacred to youth hockey than ice time. If the girls only want to use your rink one-third of the time for practices and games, then hell yeah, form your co-op. More ice time for the boys.
So how did that work out for the youth Storm? Fast forward to the 2022-23 season. Go to the Storm website and you will find there are no U10 or U14 teams for this season. There are two U12 teams, an A and a B team. Now, look at their schedules: Milwaukee area, Green Bay, Fond du Lac, Appleton, Eau Claire, Onalaska, Madison Area, Hayward, and at least one local game against the Wisconsin Valley Union in Stevens Point and another in Marshfield.
Had each association worked at growing the numbers in their own girls programs, their normal weekend schedules could have included games in Marshfield, Wausau, Schofield, Medford, Eagle River, Mosinee, Stevens Point, and Wisconsin Rapids. You know, playing other local teams like the boys do.
When you are recruiting kids to play hockey, you have a lot of stereotypes to overcome with the parents: it is too expensive, and you have to spend your entire weekend driving all over the state. You want to make it as easy for them as possible. At least for the first few years until you get them hooked. Cut down the travel and cut down the expense. Lower the barriers for entry and you will increase the turnout.
Let’s switch now to the Wisconsin Valley Union, my other favorite example. This co-op got its start when Stevens Point and Wisconsin Rapids combined to form the Red Panthers high school co-op. They each had girls teams at the youth level, but not enough for a high school team, so the co-op made sense. It was a fairly even split between the numbers they had from each school. But they also took the unnecessary extra step of merging their youth teams.
Look at them now, as the Wisconsin Valley Union, made up of skaters from Point, Rapids, Marshfield, and Waupaca. It’s an hour’s drive from Waupaca to Marshfield. At the high school level, WVU played one home game in Marshfield and one in Waupaca. Their current high school roster shows four girls from Wisconsin Rapids. Is that growing the sport? If you are a student at Marshfield High School, does it seem like you are representing your school and community when you take the ice for a home game in Stevens Point? Do your friends and classmates come out to watch?
When the Section 1 final was set between Superior and the Hayward Co-op, I thought they would find a neutral site for the game. I was hoping it would be Chippewa Falls, where the boys were also playing. Every other rink between Chippewa Falls and Superior is part of the Hayward Co-op. From Ashland through Hayward and on to Spooner, down to Barron and Rice Lake, and over to Siren. It’s a two hour drive from Ashland to Siren.
I disagree with Dan in regard to the reason that the co-ops are adding more schools is to get stronger, at least in the northern part of the state. The co-ops up here are adding more schools because the individual schools don’t have enough players for their own teams anymore. And I believe it is because their youth associations are failing them.
You aren’t going to field a competitive high school hockey team if you have to continually teach freshmen how to skate. You have to get them when they are young. And to do that, you have to make it as easy as possible for them. You have to show them that you are building a local team and that half of their games will indeed be at their home rink. You have to show that they won’t have to crisscross the state every weekend for away games. And when they get to high school, they will be wearing their own high school colors.
The Marathon County Hockey Association (Wausau) recently met to see if they wanted to split their girls from the CW Storm. I think they voted to continue with the co-op. I believe they should re-visit that decision and re-form their own girls teams. In a couple years the two Wausau high schools will be joined and field one team for each sport. A perfect time to unveil your own Wausau girls high school team. Show that hometown pride. Play for your school, not some club team.
We don’t need two divisions for girls. We just need the youth associations to actively recruit girls to grow the sport at the local level so that each school will be able to field their own team. Co-ops are supposed to be temporary, to get the programs started. We have been playing that backwards in Wisconsin.
Note: My two favorite characters for editorial replies are Johnny Carson’s Floyd R Turbo – American, and Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella from SNL. Either way, I am dating myself. So if you didn’t recognize the photo on the slide show, just Google Floyd R Turbo.
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