Jan 23, 2012 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
The Skaneateles girls varsity hockey team is coming to the end of their season, hoping and intending to win their playoff games and end up state champs.
“We started a little rough, but now we’re back on track,” said team co-captain Nina Elia, a senior at Skaneateles High School.
“We’re definitely going to be in the playoffs,” said co-assistant captain, Madison Singler, a Skaneateles sophomore.
The team currently has a 2-5-3 record, with playoffs schedules for Feb. 1 and 2.
The girls varsity hockey team is a unique part of the Skaneateles school district athletic program because it is one of only three school-sponsored girls hockey teams in all of Central New York, along with Ithaca and Oswego. The team, in fact, is composed not just of players from Skaneateles, but from six other CNY school districts as well.
“It’s kind of unique this year,” said Lady Lakers’ head coach Mike Major, who also works as assistant Skaneateles High School principal. “We combine with other school districts, but this year we’re about half and half: half Skaneateles players and half from other schools. But the number of outside players will probably go down as the years go on because a lot of younger girls are playing this sport.”
This is actually only the third year the Lady Lakers have been a district-sponsored varsity athletic team.
The first-ever girls ice hockey team was formed in Skaneateles about eight years ago as the Skaneateles Youth Hockey Association Under-12 team. At that time, the SYHA was comprised of boys teams, on which girls could play.
The first girls team started with eight players, ages 8 through 12, and interest in the team increased rapidly.
“By that first season’s end, an additional five players joined and the girls program was well on its way to becoming a permanent part of SYHA. The girls team took only a few short years to earn the respect of the association and other associations around the state and Canada, as it won sectional titles three years in a row and took the championship at the Ottawa tournament several years in a row,” according to a brief history of the team written by Sue Dove, former president of the Skaneateles Girls Hockey Booster Club.
After years of funding by parents and booster organizations, and much hard work in creating a self-sustaining team, the Skaneateles Board of Education approved the girls varsity hockey team as an official, sustainable district athletic program for the 2008-09 school year.
In 2010, the school board approved allowing players from other school districts to join the team.
“It was really an evolution,” said Dove, who now limits her participation to timekeeper and scorekeeper for the team’s games. “It started with youth hockey, then a group of people, parents, tried to create a high school team. That went for one year, failed, then came back three years ago.”
This year, the Lady Lakes have 24 players on the team ranging from grades 7 through 12 and hailing from seven different school districts: Skaneateles, Marcellus, Baldwinsville, Solvay, Auburn, Port Byron, West Genesee and Christian Brothers Academy.
“We represent Skaneateles but this team is so much more than that,” said co-captain Nine Elia. “You feel like you’re representing all of Central New York or Syracuse.”
“We’re best friends; we’re like a big family,” said co-captain Erin Ganley, a Baldwinsville senior.
Maddie DuBean, a senior at Marcellus and co-assistant captain, agreed. “We have a great team with a different dynamic. As one of the older girls, I look carefully at what I do to influence the younger players.”
Girls hockey is the same as boys hockey, with the only exception being that no checking is allowed. This actually makes the game harder in some ways because a player can’t just hit someone against the boards and steal the puck. It’s more about fast skating and skillful stick angling, said Elia.
“A girls’ game is much faster, a higher-speed game,” said Singler.
“Oh yes, these girls can play hockey,” said Major. “They play hockey extremely well.”
Because of the rarity of girls hockey teams in CNY, however – most of the teams are from the Buffalo area and up in the North Country such as Canton and Potsdam – the sport is, in some ways, the unknown sport in Skaneateles.
“Half the people in my school probably don’t know I play hockey,” said DuBean.
“I played last year too, and one day my teacher asked me if I play on the boys team,” Singler added.
“I don’t think most people know about the team,” said Robyn Bentley-Graham, President of the Girls Varsity Hockey Booster Club. “People still say, ‘Oh, really? You have a team?’ In Skaneateles it’s a bit more known, but its surprising that in this area its not big high school sport.”
Bentley-Graham, whose daughter Samantha is on the team, has been involved in the sport here in Skaneateles since the beginning.
“I got involved when I moved back to the area [in 2004] to help drive the movement to get girls hockey as a varsity sport, and to eventually get the school to support the self-funded team. Quite a few others in town really put a lot of volunteer hours in to make this possible,” Bentley-Graham said.
The role of the boosters club is to support the team, mainly financially. The school district pays for ice time for after-school practices, but most every other cost for the sport — warm ups, food on the road, hotels, bus drivers, coaching expenses, and player equipment – is funded by the boosters and the players themselves.
Travel expenses make up a huge part of the budget, Bentley-Graham said. Since there are so few girls varsity hockey teams in the area, the Lady Lakers travel all over the state to play, and spend anywhere from one to five hours on the road traveling to games.
“We do a lot of fundraising, and the whole thing really takes a cooperative effort,” Bentley-Graham said. “We wouldn’t have a hockey program if it wasn’t for the support of the parents and the booster club.”
Former Booster Club president Dove said she does see girls hockey as a forgotten sport in Skaneateles. “It’s got a life of its own now,” she said. “It’s fun to see the little girls come and play. Youth hockey has a very active team – it’s got good feeders now to keep it rolling.”
Bentley-Graham agreed, saying there are a lot more younger, newer girls interested in the sport this year, both on the team and of younger ages.
“That’s been my goal, to keep fueling the funnel so this program can continue on,” she said.
That’s important this year because six of the Lady Lakers will graduate in May, two from Skaneateles and four from other schools.
The current team captains and assistant captains are not concerned, however, because they see interest in their sport growing.
“This a great sport for young girls to play,” said DuBean. “And having the varsity team, the little kids have someone to look up to.”
“It’s great to have that,” Ganley agreed. “It’s so cool to see the younger girls look up to the older players.”
Two of the team’s players this year are in fact seventh graders, and one of them is the team’s leading scorer, Major said.
“This is a great sport: it’s fast, it’s fun. It’s great for the girls because of all the things the sport gives you.”
While the Lady Lakers have a fairly good homegrown support when they play home games at the old ice rink in the Austin Park Pavilion, they can always use more – both in audience attendance and financially to the Booster Club, Bentley-Graham said.
As assistant captain Singler said, “People should just come watch one of our games. Then they can understand how great this sport is.”
The final two home games in the Skaneateles Lady Lakers hockey season will be versus Ithaca at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26, and versus Oswego Friday, Jan. 27, at the Austin Park Pavilion ice rink. Playoffs are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 2 and 3.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.