I'm posting here to get thoughts and I hope support from the Blues Fan Community for some changes in St. Louis High School Hockey. I want the largest possible audience to understand how the folks that control high school hockey are not open to changes that make it a better environment for all kids. Thanks for allowing me to post this.
(This FanPost is copied from my blog "Life with Spidey.")
My son Joey, his teammates Will, Andy and Brandon played varsity ice hockey for Parkway Central High School last year in Chesterfield, Missouri. The team finished 17-4, but was upset by Pattonville in the first round of the season-ending tournament. As we begin planning for next year’s season, they are the only remaining players from last year’s roster of 16 players. Eight seniors graduated, one junior is focusing on his AAA team, one junior is focusing on academics, one player’s knee problems have ended his hockey career, and a final player is from out-of-district and hasn’t committed. There is but one incoming freshman outskater interested in playing.
If they want to continue playing high school hockey, Joey and his teammates will almost certainly be forced to separate and play for different schools in the St. Louis area — unless the Mid-States Club Hockey Association, the governing body for high school hockey in St. Louis, finally recognizes the problem and makes some changes. These changes are easily implemented and will not upset the competitive balance within the league.
Sadly, this situation is but one example of declining participation in high school hockey in the St. Louis metropolitan area. This is, even more sadly, not just a St. Louis phenomenon, but something happening in many parts of the country. When I read articles like this one from Minnesota Public Radio about declining participation Minneapolis High School Hockey, an area known for hockey fervor, it’s clear the problem is widespread. The decline in youth hockey is due to factors including more club hockey teams for the top players, cost, travel and practice/game times, but also due to the rise in popularity of soccer and off-season baseball (fallball), not to mention the myriad of other activities available to high school students.
In the St. Louis metro area, schools that once had enough players to fill three rosters just a few years ago, now struggle to field a varsity team, with the notion of a junior varsity long since forgotten. Without rules changes, I estimate that 5 to 7 of the 36 schools that fielded teams for the 2009-2010 season may not return, and more will fold the following year. This will likely mean that some kids, perhaps my son, will decide not to continue playing a sport that they love and have been playing since mini-mites.
The solution lies with the Mid-States Club Hockey Association rules, but the individuals with the power to change the rules won’t budge. I don’t really understand why they won’t budget.
The changes necessary lie in roster size changes or in allowing team mergers.
Today, Mid-States requires a minimum of 12 rostered players to create a team, not including goalies. Once that roster is filed with Mid-States, the school may increase the roster to 16 players, either through a draft of players cut from their high school team or through free-agents, players whose schools do not have a team. It’s not clear how many players were added through either mechanism last year, but I know that demand far outstripped supply.
The rules create some situations where seemingly easy solutions to allow kids to play together can’t be implemented. For example, two schools might have 8 players each. Neither can form a team, because they can’t get to 12, although combined, they’d be 16. Or, one school might have 12 and a school like Parkway Central has 5. Our five can’t be added to the 12, because it exceeds 16. (I could go on indefinitely about the logic of combining teams that have 15 each to allow for a varsity and junior varsity, but I won’t.)
The Mid-States leaders have steadfastly refused to address this situation through lowering minimum roster sizes, increasing maximum roster sizes, or allowing schools to merge teams. Somehow merged teams work in Minneapolis (see the article noted above), but they can’t work in St. Louis.
We asked Mid-States within their rules change process to decrease minimum roster size to 9 and increase maximum roster size to 20. This was rejected, although we got no feedback and, therefore don’t know why. Candidly, if they were to implement these changes, we believe most kids that want to play with their schoolmates will be able to.
Mid-States’ fear, we believe, is upsetting the competitive balance of the league. I’d be happy to set up practice games between some of the top teams and teams created from schools with less than the minimum number of players to allay their fears. It won’t be a problem.
We are reaching out to other teams in St. Louis to get their support. We are writing the Board Members directly. However, I am now posting here and have broadcast on Facebook and through Twitter, as a way to push Mid-States to act.
I am asking for readers’ help. If the Mid-States Board will not respond to us, perhaps they will respond to other parents who understand this situation.
If you are sympathetic to our cause, drop a note to Jeff Hayes, the President of Mid-States (firstname.lastname@example.org), or John Nichols, the Vice President of Mid-States (email@example.com) to let them know how you feel. If you are very ambitious, let me know, and I’ll send you the email addresses of the whole Mid-States roster.
St. Louis High School Hockey needs to change with the times.
I want Mid-States to live up to its by-laws which list as one of its purposes: "To develop, encourage and regulate the game of ice hockey as a High School sport, in the State of Missouri for the benefit of, and exclusely for, students and their respective schools, and so the sport is made available to more students at the lowest possible cost."