Souhegan trying co-op hockey

NASHUA – As dwindling membership threatens to end the ice hockey program at Nashua High School North, district officials approved a plan to save the program by joining with another school.

The Nashua School Board approved a proposal to create a cooperative ice hockey team between Nashua North and Souhegan High School in Amherst at its Monday night meeting.

The Nashua and Souhegan athletic directors now have to pass the plan by Souhegan’s school board and the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association. A difficult task since both districts have to ask for special exception from NHIAA rules for co-op approval.

“We are fighting an uphill battle to get this approved, because we both have hockey programs this year, and it’s not a classification year,” said Nashua Athletic Director Lisa Gingras. Typically, teams seeking a co-op apply within a “classification year” and do not host a team the year prior.

Nashua North and Souhegan want to sign a three-year agreement, which would expire prior to the next classification year.

Nashua has to seek a partner outside the district since the city’s two high schools cannot form a co-op with each other.

According to NHIAA rules, the combination of the two schools in a co-op can’t exceed the enrollment size of the largest competitor, which for Nashua is Pinkerton Academy, with an
enrollment of 3,128. The two Nashua high schools exceed Pinkerton’s enrollment at 3,500 students, but the schools can search outside the Nashua district for a co-op partner.

Dick Miller, Souhegan’s athletic director, said hockey parents encouraged him to search for a co-op to maintain the program at the high school.

The proposal heads to the Souhegan cooperative school board Thursday.

Gingras said there is a little added incentive for Souhegan players. Because of combined enrollment, Souhegan would move from Division III to Division I.

If the co-op is approved, the Nashua hockey program user fee rate would decrease at both North and South, from $600 to $450. Although the co-op is only affecting North, Gingras said students at both schools should see the same fees for the same sports.

The schools would split the cost of the program evenly.

The first year of the co-op, the program will bear the cost of new uniforms bearing the newly formed team’s name “North Souhegan.”

“Because of the uniform costs in the first year, it is not a significant financial savings, just a little under 200 dollars, but we’re not doing it for financial reasons … we’re doing it so our players have a place to play,” said Gingras.

Board member Kimberly Muise asked how the teams plan to handle who coaches the team. “It’s the million dollar question,” said Gingras, adding the districts will tackle the topic together.

“We decided that we, in conjunction, will interview and hire the coaching staff,” said Miller.

Gingras said the Nashua district will be the formal administrator, but decisions on coaching staff will be made collaboratively.

If the NHIAA committees accept the co-op proposal for review, the meetings will take place within the next several weeks.

“If they say no, it’s very, very likely North won’t have a team,” said Gingras. If that is the case, she said she plans to submit a co-op proposal again next season.

However, a delay could prove costly. Conrad said if the NHIAA votes the proposal down, they could essentially be killing the teams at both schools.

“If both programs can’t run this year, we might have trouble getting a team the year after,” he said, adding that would not be in the best interest of students.