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Published May 17 2010

Fargo School Board to discuss freshman hockey eligibility

The Fargo School Board may soon open the door for all freshmen boys to play hockey at Fargo Public Schools.

Board member Jim Johnson said he will make a motion this week to reconsider the decision to have separate programs at Fargo South and Fargo Davies.

However, Johnson doesn’t want a blended program. He’s looking for a discussion about creating junior varsity teams for both schools. There are no plans for junior varsity teams at South or Davies next season due to a lack of participation.

Fargo North has a junior varsity program.

“It doesn’t appear that we will have the numbers using seniors, juniors and sophomores to fill junior varsity teams,” said Johnson, who was absent for the School Board’s

6-2 vote on March 23 to separate the South and Davies programs. “It leads me to wonder why we don’t have freshmen eligible?

“I just want to know why we wouldn’t encourage those kids to come out for high school hockey when they are ninth-graders instead of 10th graders?”

Fargo Public Schools Activities Director Ed Lockwood said there is an unwritten agreement with the youth hockey organizations that the schools will attempt to limit the use of freshmen.

Fewer than five freshmen find their way to junior varsity rosters at South and North each year, Lockwood said.

“We try not to take any of those players to affect their (youth) program,” Lockwood said. “And any students we pull out of their program do not get to skate at an age level that has been set up with the youth hockey.”

Using freshmen at the high school level could significantly cut into the Fargo Flyers (South/Davies) and Fargo Raiders (North) youth bantam hockey rosters.

Fargo Flyers president Mike Beaton said his bantam program has about 19 players from two bantam teams who would be eligible to play at South or Davies next year as freshmen. The number of bantam teams offered by the organization could be cut if several players choose to play junior varsity hockey.

“We certainly understand their position,” Beaton said. “They are in a time of transition. We would like to be part of the discussion to ensure we have adequate numbers to hold the number of teams we think we can have.”

Giving all freshmen the opportunity to play high school hockey wouldn’t necessarily ensure the numbers for junior varsity programs at South and Davies next year, either.

Bantam teams play about 50 games a year. The North Dakota High School Activities Association limits the number of boys hockey games to 21 a season.

The bantam programs also allow players to develop skills against those in their own age group, while high school junior varsity programs are allowed to have juniors and seniors.

Lockwood said Davies would have enough junior varsity players if all 11 of their eligible Flyers bantam freshmen decided to participate in high school hockey. South’s ability to field a junior varsity would be marginal if each of its eight eligible players chose to play, Lockwood said.

Lockwood said the schools could create junior varsity schedules for South and Davies if needed.

However, he said it has been difficult to fill a schedule for Davies.

“We have portions of a schedule,” Lockwood said. “We’re finding it’s difficult to get schools to give you a varsity game and not a junior varsity game.”

Fargo Public Schools is currently conducting a survey to better gauge the participants for each of its boys hockey programs.

The next Fargo school board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.

“I think, in the long run, not having junior varsity is not healthy for the varsity program,” Johnson said. “It limits the number of kids who have the opportunity to play. … I think we at least owe it to our own students to look into everything. We also have an obligation to the board and the high school activities association to at least explore how we can have a sustainable varsity and junior varsity.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562