CONWAY — A few Eagles will be traveling north next winter to play ice hockey as part of a proposed girls’ cooperative team.
Discussions are underway to assess the level of interest at Kennett High about joining Berlin and Gorham high schools in a cooperative team for next winter.
Three girls — sophomore Grace Murphy and freshmen Tessa Capozzoli and Lucy Girouard — are currently skating on the KHS boys’ team, which plays in Division III and has 18 members.
Fourteen girls are on the Berlin-Gorham girls’ ice hockey team this winter.
Michelle Capozzoli, who chairs the Conway School Board’s co-curricular committee, gave an update to the board Monday on a Feb. 13 meeting by the committee. Her daughter is on the KHS team.
Members of the co-curricular committee are Capozzoli and fellow school board member Randy Davison; SAU 9 Superintendent Kevin Richard; Kennett High Principal Kevin Carpenter; Kennett Middle School Principal Rick Biche; KHS Athletic Director Neal Weaver; KMS Athletic Coordinator Gredel Shaw; KHS teachers Holly Fougere, Jason Cicero and Chris Bailey; and community members Julie Cummings and John Eastman.
The committee invited Kennett High ice hockey Coach Michael Lane to its meeting.
“At this point, it’s a school board project,” Lane said by phone Wednesday, “but I will say, we’re happy to support all athletes in allowing them an opportunity to play high school hockey.”
Lane said the three girls skating are the most in Division III. “We’re the only team with multiple females,” he said, adding, “there may be three or four other girls playing Division III.”
Laconia-Winnisquam-Inter-Lakes, John Stark-Hopkinton and Monadnock-Fall Mountain each have one girl on their boys’ teams.
“Athletically, hands down, this is the best thing for the girls, but there is so much more to this picture than just putting them on a girls team,” said Kelley Murphy, director of hockey operations for Kennett High, president of the Mount Washington Valley Youth Hockey Association and a parent of two current Eagles — Grace and Reilly, a senior.
“Look at things logistically — Berlin moves all of its practices to 4:30 p.m. so our girls can attend. Our girls get out of school a 2:30 p.m. and have to drive the hour north through the notch. They get out of practice at 6 p.m. then have to drive back home, getting there after 7 p.m. That may prevent girls from being involved in other things,” Murphy said.
Capozzoli shared minutes from the meeting at which Weaver presented the proposal for a cooperative girls’ ice hockey team with Berlin and Gorham, Randolph and Shelburne. The agreement needs to be voted on by all three school boards (Conway, Berlin and Gorham, Randolph and Shelburne) before it could be sent to the NHIAA for approval.
If the boards agree to form the co-op, and the NHIAA signs off, the Kennett girls would not be given a choice of which team to play for. Girls are currently permitted to play for KHS because there is not a program for them. The co-op would create that opportunity, albeit an hour away.
Capozzoli said an agreement needs to be sent to the NHIAA for consideration by the end of the season, which ends with s state championship game at SNHU Arena on March 14 at 10 a.m.
Concerns raised by the committee, according to meeting minutes, include travel through Pinkham Notch. “In inclement weather, the girls will be allowed to practice with the boys,” the minutes state.
Other concerns stated in the minutes:
• Cost and fundraising: “Athletes are still associated with Kennett and could participate in fundraising activities.”
• Taxpayer burden: “There will be a cost to the district of approximately $1,000 per athlete.”
• Transportation: “No transportation will be supplied. Berlin could pick up the athletes for away games if they are traveling through our area.”
Sixteen all-girl teams currently make up Division I hockey under the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association’s umbrella. Of those teams, seven are made up of cooperative school districts.
Boys’ hockey in the state has three divisions made up of 16 Division I teams, 13 Division II teams and 11 Division III teams. Of the teams in Division III hockey for boys, Kennett is the lone school not in a cooperative.
The co-curricular committee is scheduled to meet again Thursday at 3 p.m. at Kennett High.
“The committee will be meeting to decide whether or not we push it forward to the full (school) board for us to decide whether or not (to proceed forward),” Capozzoli said Monday, adding that the Berlin School Board has approved the idea of a three-district co-op team.
The Gorham, Randolph and Shelburne School Board is scheduled to vote on this at its March 7 meeting.
Carpenter, formerly the principal of Berlin High, wants to create opportunities for his student-athletes. “We’re living in a unique situation when it comes to co-op hockey,” he said Monday night.
“So there’s a lot of co-ops around the state just to give you some perspective and some are 50-60 miles apart, and they’re playing on the same team. If you look at the Laconia Ice Arena, it has three different high school teams, which means all these places are sending their kids there, they practice, they’ve got to provide transportation for them. We’re kind of like in a really unique situation in that we actually both have arenas in our towns that support hockey so it’s kind of different in that sense, but co-ops are very, very common.”
Girls’ ice hockey was sanctioned by the NHIAA in 2009.
Lebanon-Stevens-Kearsarge is the most recent cooperative girls’ ice hockey team after Kearsarge Regional High students joined the Lebanon-Stevens cooperative team in participating in NHIAA-sanctioned girls’ ice hockey last year. Lebanon was on its own until Stevens joined it two seasons before that.
Since 2009, Hanover has had a firm grip on the state championship, winning 11 titles, including 10 in a row. Now-defunct St. Thomas-Dover won the championship in 2009.
Berlin-Gorham has appeared in the state finals twice, losing both times to Hanover. In 2014, the Marauders beat Berlin-Gorham 5-1, and in 2016, it was Hanover over the Mountaineers 4-1.
Hanover has beaten Exeter in each of the past three state championship games.