According to a recent widely published article, high school girls hockey in Vermont is in major decline. The Vermont Principal’s Association and their coaches point to a laundry list of problems, yet are perplexed as to the root cause. I believe the VPA needs to point the finger at themselves. Their obsolete "Outside Team" rule has forced our state’s best female hockey players to leave and play elsewhere.
In Vermont and around the country, female youth hockey has experienced exponentially high growth over the last 10 years, with lower but steady growth rates regionally over the last five. While girls’ youth hockey registrations are holding their own everywhere and high school programs are growing, the decline in girls’ participation at high school is a uniquely Vermont problem.
The popularity of girls hockey has been greatly aided by the rise of women’s college hockey opportunities and the success of the U.S. Olympic team. Unfortunately, Vermont players discovered that there were few college opportunities after high school. The problem? Unless they participated on "travel" teams, which is prohibited under the VPA’s rule, they likely won’t be recruited.
In 2008, the VPA was presented with the problem. Every Vermont high school athlete has the opportunity to fully participate on travel teams, except hockey. Why? Because hockey travel teams play during the same season as high school teams, and no other sport has that situation (except skiers, who are exempted).
Unfortunately, the VPA upheld their rule and the decline that was warned about began. In seven years, at least 75 female players have left to play elsewhere. Our best players left for private schools, to the North American Hockey Academy in Stowe, and to join Rice High School’s prep team, a squad formed in the wake of the VPA’s decision. I have three talented female hockey-playing daughters myself. Our oldest stayed in Vermont and never got recruited for college hockey, so we decided to send our next two away for high school. Currently, one is playing in college and the other will be able to play if she chooses. If they could have played on a travel team, we would have kept them here where they belong.
Sending our student-athletes away has done nothing good for Vermont. Their departure has decimated our high school hockey ranks, and we don’t get their contributions as athletes in other sports. We also have lost many students to the country’s best private schools, who otherwise would have made a positive academic and social impact on our schools. We must not forget the parents -- who have to say goodbye to their kids and figure out how to pay tuition.
It will take years to repair the damage at the high school level. We can start to rebuild by changing the rule, or otherwise face the continued decline of girl’s hockey in Vermont.