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Rugby board OKs hockey co-op with Bottineau district

By Staff | Aug 12, 2010

The Rugby School Board last week unanimously approved entering a boys hockey co-op with Bottineau’s school district for the coming season.

The decision came after about 45 minutes of discussion with two Rugby Amateur Hockey Association’s (RAHA) board members – Sandy Hageness and Steve Brossart – at the Aug. 10 board meeting.

The RAHA made the request to the district to enter the co-op with Bottineau because anticipated low participation numbers would not have enabled the local program to offer high school-level hockey in the foreseeable future.

Administrators from both schools and members of the two youth hockey programs had met earlier this summer to discuss a possible co-op. Recently, administrators and athletic directors met again to iron out a proposal, if the two school boards approved a co-op.

In year one, Rugby’s district would be responsible only for transporting its participants to and from Bottineau for practices and home games and cover those transportation costs. Rugby would receive no name recognition as part of the co-op. Rugby participants would play under the Bottineau Braves name.

Jeff Lind, school superintendent, told board members it’s possible that one or two games would be played in Rugby this coming season and at least one practice a week will be conducted at Rugby’s Al Wentz Arena.

In year two, steps would made to create a more “true co-op”, Lind said. Program costs would be shared evenly and games and practices would also be split between the towns. The co-op would also likely be known as Bottineau-Rugby, or by another name.

Lind told the board the annual costs now for Bottineau to operate the program is about $30,000.

Bottineau’s school board and youth hockey association back the co-op because it also is seeing participation numbers taper off in some of its lower levels. The partnership would ensure the program would have enough numbers to continue to field a competitive team in years to come.

Hageness said the association certainly understands the concerns the school board expressed, including more athletic costs and adding another boys sport.

The association had explored other options to continue to offer club level hockey for its high school-level players. However, no viable option could be found. As a result, the board pursued a high school-sanctioned hockey co-op between the two schools.

The goal is to allow RAHA players to continue to play hockey at the high school level. It’s anticipated at least eight Rugby students plan to participate in the co-op this coming season.

Lind said it’s estimated the added athletic costs to the district this year will be about $8,000.

Chuck Volk, school board member, asked if the local hockey board would consider providing financial support to offset some of the district’s costs. Hageness said the RAHA is open to that, adding possible fundraisers could be held to help cover expenses.

The other immediate concern is how the addition of another boys sport affects the participation offerings in the school for boys and girls sports. Is this addition of hockey causing the district not to be in compliance with the federal law Title IX?

Rugby already offers seven boys and five girls sports. Lind said looking solely on participation numbers there are more boys than girls. He said football, which is such a large participation sport, skews those figures.

Lind added Title IX could be an issue if someone raises the question and wants another sporting activity for girls. The district could offset the Title IX debate with cheerleading. The district has a strong cheer program in which participates attend regular practices, must follow strict athletic training requirements and take part in fall and spring competitions. This activity could be considered a sport, and thus, boosting athletic participation numbers for girls. However, whether cheerleading can be defined as a sport or not, is subject to interpretation.

Currently, Rugby and Bottineau’s youth programs field a girls 19U and 12U program. Participation numbers are still low, but the ultimate goal is one day to see girls hockey added as a school-sanctioned sport under the North Dakota High School Activities Association (NDHSAA).

If that occurs, that would help address the Title IX concern.

While both Rugby and Bottineau’s boards have approved entering the co-op, the final step must be approval from the North Dakota High School Activities Association which sponsors the sport. The board of directors is expected to review the request next month.

If approved by the NDHSAA, it would be valid for three years. However, either school board has the right to dissolve the co-op at anytime.

While the co-op does enable local players to continue to participate at the high school level, the decision doesn’t come without drawbacks for the RAHA.

The loss of the high school level program will leave a void in the RAHA as no longer will there be 10 to 12 home games played at the Al Wentz Arena which brought needed revenue through ticket and concession sales.

The RAHA has to explore how to make up for some of that lost revenue. It will continue to offer hockey levels for players ages four to 15 and partner with Bottineau’s youth association in the peewee and bantam levels. Hageness said that partnership has been very positive.

Cory Johnson, board member, asked if the RAHA would ever consider going back to running its own high school-level program.

Hageness said that’s a question difficult to answer at the moment, but again said it will be a few years before the RAHA would be in a position to even consider fielding a team.

Many of the association’s members and parents support the co-op decision, Hageness said, seeing this as a chance for players to compete at the highest level of high school hockey in North Dakota.

And Rugby’s partnership with Bottineau comes at an ideal time. Bottineau is coming off its most successful season in recent memory, advancing to the N.D. State Hockey Tournament for the first time since 1993.

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