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Present and future status of high school co-op teams examined

March 18, 2013

Members of the Cumberland-Lincoln co-op hockey team, sophomore Cassie DiPaola (17), and Jean Bray (16) embrace after Bray scored a goal in a recent game. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN

PROVIDENCE — While the immediate future of Rhode Island high school co-op teams does not appear threatened, concern appears to be mounting about the direction the practice is heading.
A portion of Monday’s gathering of the Principals’ Committee on Athletics focused on a myriad of topics that have to do with the validity of cooperative programs. The fact-finding mission is already underway -- a committee tasked by the Interscholastic League to weigh the pros and cons of co-ops recently sent out a three-page survey to principals and athletic directors.
Each school is being asked to carefully consider several issues ranging from why co-op teams are needed in the first place (budgetary, lack of participants, poor team performance), to whether their presence detracts from school-based athletics and fosters club/regional team participation.
Are co-op teams falling into the trap of resembling über teams that threaten competitive balance? Has the time finally come to dismiss the idea that girls’ hockey – a sport where co-ops have become the norm – is still an emerging sport when it’s been staging seasons since 2002-03?
Above all else, do co-op teams violate the primary regulation with regards to enrollment? When combining forces at two or sometimes three schools, does the student-based figure wind up exceeding the high school with the state’s highest enrollment?
Co-op teams are most prevalent in hockey, but PCD/Wheeler/Juanita Sanchez has been a mainstay in Division IV football since 2010. In the just-completed hockey season, there were four boys’ co-op teams and seven girls’ co-op entries. Two of the boys’ operations featured three schools combining resources and talent while for the girls’, you have four teams with at least three schools under the same umbrella.
Tom Mezzanotte, RIIL executive director, noted that the girls’ hockey co-op operations involving Ponaganset and Burrillville along with North Smithfield and Smithfield meet the required guidelines and that each would run into zero difficulty when the time comes to renew their membership.
“We’ve said that co-ops increase opportunity and that’s something the league is all about,” stated Mezzanotte. “We’ll see what the survey brings back and whether more schools are looking into co-ops than ever. I can tell you that there’s something to be said for a school winning a championship and having your students participate.
“There are a lot of questions are out there,” continued Mezzanotte, “but I don’t think we would have girls’ hockey in this state without co-ops
While the co-op committee does not have the power to make specific changes to the system based on their findings, Mezzanotte cautioned that “it may raise its ugly head” as far as seeing more and more schools adopt a similar course of action in the coming years. It’s possible that the committee could present its findings to the PCOA at the next meeting, scheduled for June 17.
“This is definitely a good thing to look into and be aware of,” said Mezzanotte.
– In other matters Monday, the fate of Rhode Island high school football officials will be discussed at Wednesday’s football committee meeting. After talking matters over with the Athletic Directors’ Association, the Interscholastic League has secured bids from officials from this state along with Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Mezzanotte noted that potentially bringing in out-of-state officials stems from concerns regarding the accountability of the current crop of R.I. officials along with how they are evaluated.
– The PCOA tweaked the language regarding the presence of a licensed doctor and/or licensed athletic trainer, Instead of saying that the home school “should” provide a medical staffer, schools are “encouraged” to have someone on the premise, though it’s not mandated by the RIIL.
– By a unanimous margin (10-0), Lincoln High was fined $100 for allowing an academically ineligible male swimmer to participate in three meets. It should be noted that the student-athlete met RIIL academic standards but not those at Lincoln. The matter was self-reported by Lincoln school officials to the PCOA.
– The girls’ basketball committee passed along a few items of note. The possibility of moving the playoffs from Rhode Island College to someplace else has been bandied about while Division III teams have expressed interest in having the quarterfinals take place at college sites. Currently, quarters are contested at the high schools.
Finally, there has been slight discussion of taking a page from boys’ basketball and staging an open state tournament.

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