A St. Paul public school boys’ hockey program is taking steps to end its existence barely three weeks before the season begins, a shakeup that will leave the capital city with just two public school programs.
Como Park and Central, partners in a co-op program for the past 10 seasons under the Como Park name, seeks to create new alliances with Highland Park and Johnson. Plans call for Central players to join Highland Park while Como Park players skate with Johnson beginning with the 2016-17 season.
Nate Galloway, interim Como Park activities director, said he has sent word to the Minnesota State High School League. Galloway has also sent emails to the schools scheduled to play Como Park in 2016-17 to alert them to the pending change so they can fill resulting schedule holes.
“It’s all in the formative stages,” Galloway said.
At a meeting on Oct. 17, Galloway said, 17 students indicated interest in playing hockey this season. Eight are from Como Park, seven from Central, one from Open World Learning Community and one a home-school student. Eleven of the 17 are ninth- or 10th-graders.
Galloway said “it’s all up for interpretation” why some of the 17 families would rather play with Highland Park or Johnson.
“Some parents were unsure how we’d field a varsity team with so many young players,” he said.
Johnson, with four state tournament championships from 1947 to 1963, is St. Paul’s most tradition-rich program. In 2015, the Governors’ game against Luverne was featured as part of the Fox Sports North “Hockey Day Minnesota” broadcast.
Meanwhile, Highland Park has completed construction of a new, privately funded, locker facility, the centerpiece of its remarkable comeback. The varsity program ended in 1987 and formed a co-op with Central that lasted until 2006-07 when both schools sent their hockey players to Como Park’s program. Strong youth program numbers led to Highland varsity hockey relaunching in 2010-11 while Central continued to partner with Como Park.
“You’re remiss when you close a program with history and tradition,” Galloway said. “But there’s still an opportunity for kids to participate.”
Merging Highland Park and Central and Johnson and Como Park follows the youth model in those neighborhoods. The St. Paul Capitals draw from the Highland-Central attendance areas. Youth skaters from Johnson and Como Park areas also skate with North St. Paul kids.
The coming realignment continues a trend of dissolving inner-city and first-ring public school hockey programs. Minneapolis has put one team on the ice representing seven public schools since the 2010-11 season. Last fall, former hockey power Richfield folded its program because of a lack of numbers. The school later formed a co-op with Southwest Christian, located in Chaska, for the 2016-17 season.
“In the inner-city, there’s a lack of interest, skills and parent involvement in some sports,” Galloway said. “I’m not making predictions but I think you’ll see more consolidation.”