Eighth grade girls from South and East middle schools may be able to join the Braintree High varsity hockey team this winter to make up for high graduation rates and a lack of experience among incoming players.
The School Committee voted unanimously to support a waiver of MIAA rules on Thursday night at the request of Athletic Director Michael Denise. After also receiving the go-ahead from the Bay State Conference and the schools' principals and headmaster, the waiver must be approved by the District C Waiver Committee.
"We're looking at this as an insurance policy to safely put a team on the ice," Denise told the committee. "On paper, it looks as though we have enough players to play through a season."
But even though a meeting in September showed 23 candidates – including 16 girls returning from last year's varsity and junior varsity squads – Denise said that he worries a number of them may not follow through based on their limited hockey experience.
As it is, the girls hockey program will not include a JV team this season. There is no middle school program. Since becoming a BHS club and then sport, the program has struggled to achieve success, Denise said, though last year the team made it to the MIAA semi-finals, losing to Arlington Catholic in overtime.
In 2011 and 2012, 16 seniors graduated, leaving the program without much-needed experience, Denise said. All but one of the freshmen candidates for the team have played for less than two years.
"In contrast," Denise wrote in a letter requesting the waiver, "the interested 8th grade Ice Hockey student-athletes have participated in ice hockey for several years at the youth level and are far more prepared for the physical and mental demands of a Varsity season..."
The MIAA requires at least 15 players to field a team, and Braintree appears to have at least that many with the returning student athletes, but Denise said he wants to make sure the program "does not regress." High school players will be given first priority and eighth graders will not be considered until after the first practice shows how the roster is adding up, he said.
Committee member Pam Kiley asked how safe the younger players would be, especially considering the increased focus on concussions. Denise said that there is no checking in girls hockey at the high school level, and that last season concussion levels were in the "single digits" for the program.
Still, it is a concern when smaller, lighter students play against their older counterparts, but other schools in Massachusetts have seen success with utilizing players even at the sixth and seventh grade levels, Denise said.
Academically, the eighth graders would be monitored to make sure they keep up with attendance, homework and grades.
"Both Middle School Principals are in support of this waiver and are willing to assist with the daily academic record keeping necessary for participation," Denise wrote in the letter.