MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- Participation in girl's hockey in Vermont has been declining for years, leaving coaches and officials to worry about the health of the sport in the state.
"This decline has been going on for four or five years," said Bob Johnson, executive director of the Vermont Principals' Association. "A lot of teams are looking at number issues."
The Burlington Free Press reports (http://bfpne.ws/1kM9Dv9) that three schools-- Burlington, Montpelier and Rutland's Mount Saint Joseph Academy-- eliminated their girls hockey teams. Other schools have formed co-op teams that pool hockey players together.
Fourteen years ago, former Gov. Howard Dean promoted girls hockey, and even pledged to chip in $10,000 to help get each team started. Within two years of that commitment, the VPA officially sanctioned the sport with 16 teams.
The sport peaked with over 20 girls hockey teams in 2009. Then, teams began to drop off. In 2012, just one season after playing in a Division One championship game, South Burlington couldn't support its own team and entered a co-op.
Colchester, Missisquoi and North Country have requested to be in lower divisions next season because of low participation.
"Hockey's a really fun sport," said Susan Wing, who skated for Mount Saint Joseph Academy's hockey team in 2007. "It's sad to see not that many girls are interested."
Wing, who has skated since she was a toddler and belongs to a self-proclaimed ‘hockey family,' suspected that hockey equipment costs might be a factor. Besides equipment costs, registration for youth hockey leagues can run around $1,000.
"I can sign a kid up for $50 and a pair of sneakers and go play basketball," said Ed Lewicki, coach of the Burr and Burton girls hockey team. "If you're a struggling family and it costs you a $1,000 just to sign up, before equipment, I think it's a huge factor."
Mickey Toof, coach of the South Burlington-Champlain Valley co-op team, hopes that youth leagues are able to lower their costs so they can be more accessible.
Lewicki said he'd also like to see more outreach to younger girls to get them interested in the sport.
"It's such a tradition in the state of Vermont," Lewicki said. "Hopefully it can get back to where it was. It's fun, seeing the excitement of the kids playing during the season. You hope you can continue it."