After listening to representatives from both Deering and Portland, the MPA’s Interscholastic Management Committee approved the waiver by an 11-1 vote, allowing Deering students to play boys’ ice hockey for Portland.
“We’re excited to be able to put ice hockey back on the map as an offering,” said Deering Athletic Director Mel Craig. “It’s been a long process. We’re ecstatic that we were able to go to the MPA, give our arguments, and they took a serious look at the totality of the situation and rendered a verdict in our favor.”
“This was one of those lingering issues,” said Portland Athletic Director Mike Connolly. “It didn’t affect Portland High School, but it affected Portland schools, Portland students from both high schools. Ultimately, we’re giving the 50% of the students of the city an opportunity that they might not have had unless we worked to achieve this decision.”
The issue has been bubbling on the surface for the last three years in the City of Portland as its public schools sought a co-op waiver. The number of players that played boys’ hockey at Deering High had been consistently dwindling for the last few seasons of the program. In 2010, the last year of the program, Deering only had 11 players on the team, nine less than the standard 20-player team.
In 2010 and 2011, the MPA denied a waiver citing the maximum enrollment rule as the reason for the denial.
Deering (942 students), Portland (913) and Casco Bay High (267) have a combined enrollment of 2,122, which would exceed Thornton Academy in Saco, who have the highest enrollment (1,384) in the state.
After being denied a waiver last year, the issue headed to the courtroom as three Deering seniors, in an attempt to play for Portland because Deering could no longer support a team due to a lack of players, sued the MPA in Cumberland County Superior Court on the basis of discrimination of sex because the sanctioning body allowed the girls’ team from Portland and Deering to combine, but not the boys’ team.
Justice Thomas Warren ruled in favor of the MPA on the grounds that they did not violate the Maine Human Rights Act.
Craig’s belief is that the lawsuit combined with not having a team may have played a role in the MPA’s approval of the waiver.
“The committee was able to see the big picture and they made a decision ultimately on what was best for the kids,” she said.
Any damage done by not allowing a co-op in the last two years has been minimized, said Craig, but whether Deering and Portland will be able to field individual teams in the future remains an unanswered question.
“I’m confident that the approval of the co-op is now in the best interest of hockey for the City of Portland,” she said. “I’m also just as confident that between Portland and Deering as a co-op that we can start rebuilding that base. Whether we will ever get back to be self-sufficient to be two individual teams, I think only time will tell, but at least we’re on a level playing field for all of our kids.”
According to Craig three students have shown an interest in playing for the co-op team, but hope once word spreads that more will want to play.
Connolly and Craig feel that this decision is not only beneficial on the ice, but off the ice by giving student-athletes from the entire city Portland an academic choice.
The MPA also approved a waiver that will allow the new Portland/Deering team to wear a Portland uniform. The MPA requires co-op teams to wear a jersey that reflects the combined team.
“We asked for a waiver so we did not have to buy new uniforms,” said Craig. “In these economic times we are aware of the cost and (Portland’s) uniforms are only two years old so it doesn’t make any sense to throw them out for new ones.”