When Tri-Town, currently a co-op of Ellington, Somers and East Windsor, got together as the state's first co-op back in 1990, I don't think anyone foresaw the hailstorm that would come nearly 30 years later. But here we are in 2018 with grumpy men filibustering all over Twitter, filling my inbox with their "plans" or "what I would do" ramblings. There are two continuous arguments that keep coming back up, co-ops and private/parochial schools and how they're absolutely ruining high school hockey. I've fended off attackers in the Twittersphere and I'll try one last ditch effort here. Simply, I don't think you can change much but some change is most definitely needed.
First, let me say that I empathize with the solo schools who have fought for years to remain competitive despite the numbers game with certain co-ops and the "recruiting," their word, not mine, that comes with privates/parochials. Before we dive deeper let's take a look at some current numbers...
At the Division I level, there are 7 public schools, 7 private/parochial schools and 3 co-ops. At the Division II level there are a large group of 12 public schools, 1 private/parochial schools (I guess Woodstock falls in this category) and 7 co-ops. At the Division III level there are 6 public schools, 1 private/parochial and 12 co-ops. In total, that's 25 public, independent schools, 9 private/parochial schools and 22 co-ops. Over the last ten years 14 state champs have been public, 6 have been private/parochial and 9 have been a co-op of some sort.
We run into some mirky water when it comes to a few teams. For instance, is NFI a co-op or a parochial school? New Fairfield is a public high school but Immaculate's mission statement starts with "In Roman Catholic tradition..." I can see the arguments now if NFI was put in the co-op division that some are proposing and I can see the gripes if they're forced to be in the private school division. What about Woodstock Academy? What are they? Sure, Academy implies an institution of higher secondary learning but Woodstock isn't exactly private either. For the purposes of this, I put them in the private/parochial column but they would be the only non-religious team in that group of nine.
Many out there are proposing that we split the state into Public, Private and Co-op Divisions. Some have a little more sense and are suggesting splitting only the state tournaments to Public, Private and Co-op. If we did this, let's just say for the state tournament here are some matchups you'd potentially be seeing in the first round... PUBLIC: Joel Barlow @ Greenwich, Masuk @ Hamden, Daniel Hand @ Ridgefield. PRIVATE: Trinity Catholic @ Fairfield Prep. CO-OP: Shepaug @ FVG, BCR @ WP. Absolute blood baths. So now to fix that, you'd have to scaffold divisions that are already tiny. Break up 25 public schools into two tourneys, okay that could work with a D1 or D2 set up. Split the 22 co-ops into two divisions? Sure, but I'm not sure a tournament with 10-11 teams in it. The main problem lies in a team like Trinity Catholic. They are a catholic school. You all seem to want all parochial schools together. So, good luck first year Coach Tucker Grose and your band of, actually really talented, but numbers thirsty boys, you get Prep in the first round because, well, Jesus and all.
In all fairness, I don't hate the idea of adjusting the state tournament. I absolutely hate the idea of altering our current regular season schedule. See, I'm a Hamden guy as many of you know and while I understand the plight of many teams out there, there's something special when long time rivals Fairfield Prep and Notre Dame-West Haven come sauntering into the Lou. You simply can't break these rivalries. West Haven/NDWH, I mean come on, there's nothing better than seeing them Battle For Bennett. Sadly, some of the complaining I'm getting is coming from Westieland. This is not an indictment of the whole population there because there's some tough blue collar SOB's that inhabit Bennett. But listen, I get it, West Haven is having a down year, people panic, Prep is scary. Well, (to those complaining), hike up those Velour bottoms, throw on your wife beater and have some town pride. To the rest of Westie nation, I'll see you Wednesday when we honor a true hero, Officer Fumiatti. Anyway, where was I? Oh yea, losing rivalries. Those fun games at Wesleyan and the NIP between Sheehan and LHK, yeah they're gone, LHK is a co-op. Xavier and NWC coming out of conference to play teams like Ridgefield and Darien, not anymore. And let's be real, the last three D1 state champions have come out of the FCIAC. This suggested format would do nothing more than let the FCIAC feast as they have only two parochial schools (SJ & TC) and only three co-ops (Fairfield, Westhill-Stamford & Norwalk-McMahon).
I've long been of the belief that the cream will rise to the top. I've lampooned at great length about my distain for some Prep haters. The ones that only complain about the Jesuits when they're relevant. Well folks, this year Prep is really good. The last three years they were kind of just some guy, bowing out in unPrep-like style in two quarterfinals. I hate when someone complains only when it fits their narrative. We had endless complaints about Woodstock Academy over the past couple of years when they were picking apart their DIII competition. Now that they are off to a slow start, not a single person has complained about them, suggested they illegally get their players, demand they are investigated. You can't have it both ways folks. I think my biggest complaint about all of this is the fact that most of the bickering and endless tweets are coming from grown men, probably townies in more cases than not, who yearn for the yesteryear before co-ops. I can count on one hand how many times a current player has voiced displeasure about the current set up. I attribute this to them being gamers, facing a task, a threat and not backing down even when odds are stacked against them. I'm sure they'll soon become the washed up complainer but for now they just go about their business quietly. I think of a team like Guilford last year who didn't say boo, put up 9 goals on co-op FVG in the quarters and finished off co-op WP in the finals. They went about their business and just cared about one thing, winning.
So now we know where I stand. I don't want you changing my regular season format, unless it was to do away with FCIACs having to play ALL other FCIACs, because, man, that is dumb. I want my rivalries. I want the years that a surprise upstart co-op figures it out and wins. I loved what Woodstock gave us the past couple years. I love the fact that three straight public schools won the D1 tourney. But I also love when Prep wins, when the evil empire gives those of you with a fighter's heart a reason to hate them. My suggestion is simple, ALLOW DOUBLE ROSTERING!
Connecticut, is only one of two states that currently does not allow players to play elsewhere during the season. If we allowed some families this option, you'd see way more kids choose to play for the pride that comes with playing for your school and the perceived spotlight that comes with playing for your local Junior Jack Rabbits. Massachusetts is a good example of how this has worked successfully. Mass went to only Tuesday and Friday games which allowed kids to double roster. With this, schools retained many more of their players which allowed them to be successful. Until this happens though, you're going to hate to hear it, co-ops are a good thing. They give many kids a chance to play high school hockey when numbers-wise, geographically they might not otherwise. They allow us to still have a decent amount of high school hockey teams. At a time when enrollment is down in 92% of school districts, athletic budgets are getting smaller and smaller and hockey is damn pricey. If we didn't have teams co-oping, where would we be? Probably in an alternate universe with you trolls finding more asinine arguments to spew.