IHS girls hockey (Courtesy of IHS Girls Hockey Facebook)

TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—After approval by the Ithaca City School District Board of Education earlier this month, Ithaca High School and Lansing High School students will form a combined girls hockey team—should the sport be allowed to proceed with competition some time in the foreseeable future.

Since IHS is one of the only schools in the area that regularly provides a girls hockey program, it regularly seeks out a collaboration with other local schools in order to provide the opportunity to high school aged girls to compete in varsity hockey. In fact, there are so few programs overall (a school-by-school choice), that IHS plays one level higher than they normally would. But occasionally low interest in the sport, plus the existence of plenty of rec league options in the area, leave a single school unable to field a full team.

“The reason why we merge is because when we don’t have enough of our own student athletes and we’re trying to build a program,” ICSD Athletic Director Samantha Little said. Lansing and Ithaca have collaborated on a team before, though this year the process took longer because of the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s not that much of a lengthy process, but with COVID, board meetings, this one took a little bit of time. (…) It’s about need and numbers.”

Whether or not the students can actually suit up is contingent on whether or not there will be a hockey season, of course. The sport is considered high-risk, so it’s currently not being played competitively in New York through schools. It’s also been ruled that no winter sports competition will be eligible to start until Nov. 30, but right now that would only allow diving, bowling and indoor track and field to start. Little said that wrestling, basketball and hockey will not be starting at that time. The latest guidance from New York State Public High School Athletic Association states that high-risk sports may be able to start on Jan. 4.

Little acknowledged that with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there have been extra obstacles to overcome in the form of putting additional precautions in place to reassure parents that the protocols provide a safe environment for their kids to participate in sports. Scholastic athletics haven’t proven to be much of a infectious threat, Little said, so she hopes they will be allowed to continue. In the meantime, the district has been distributing its 20 page document detailing the thorough methods they are taking to keep everyone safe: contact tracing infrastructure, temperature checks, mask requirements, low density in gyms and weight rooms, etc.

“We know, even more now than usual, students need these outlets and need this contact, and need to have that socialization, but safety’s always at the forefront of any decision and we’re providing other ways for students to be involved and engaged virtually and in-person,” Little said. “While that was something that was at the forefront, we were able to be clear about expectations and what we need to do to keep everybody safe.”

There are provisions in the agreement approved by the board that no IHS students would be displaced by students from elsewhere, essentially meaning that the district would not recruit students from other places to take playing time away from local kids—the kind of pitfalls that youth sports are sometimes fraught with.

“We’re just very, very fortunate we have a board and a superintendent who understand that athletics is another classroom, and that’s a way for students to learn and gain skills to help them be strong community members, off to college at the next level or start their own businesses, whatever they decide to do,” Little said. “We’re really fortunate that we have some programming that some other schools don’t. (…) In realizing that, we want to share that.”

Matt Butler is the Editor in Chief of The Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.org.