The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association acts as the regulating body for more than 400 public and non-public high schools, 127 of which have ice hockey programs. (Photo/ Courtesy of NJSIAA.org)
Hockey is a difficult sport to navigate, but the athletes who have a hunger for it manage to play. They find the rink time, ways to cover the costs and even play on more than one team. It is because the passion of a hockey player surpasses that of other athletes; hockey becomes life.
It is evident that New Jersey has this passion, with 127 active high school boy’s hockey teams. With the players’ drives to compete, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) continuously works to find ways to cultivate the sport to become the best and safest program for its student- athletes.
One of the more notable changes made by the NJSIAA is the setup of the state championships. Currently, there are three state titles; Public A, Public B and Non-Public. Last year Delbarton took home the Non-Public Championship, while Randolph went home the Public A champions and Chatham, the Public B, respectively. Eight years ago, three champions was unheard of.
“We have two separate categories, two separate enrollment divisions, so that’s been a change that’s happened over the last six or seven years and that’s been a positive” said Jack DuBois, assistant NJSIAA director. “We have an A-Championship and a B-Championship rather than an overall public championship we used to have.”
DuBois has been an assistant director at the NJSIAA for the past nine years and prior to that he worked as an Athletics Director for 37 years. DuBois has spent at least 20 of his tenured years dealing with men’s ice hockey. He has seen the interest of ice hockey grow and has been a part of the implementations to better the sport, such as the division of the state championships. Despite now working primarily with football, DuBois’ passion for the sport is still prevalent.
|The NJSIAA is responsible for holding each year's state tournaments. Less than a decade ago the ice hockey state championships were changed to three titles; Public A, Public B, and Non-Public. (Photo/Prudential Center) |
“New Jersey ice hockey has really, really elevated over the years and they have done well when they play out of the state against what people would consider real ice hockey states like Michigan, Minnesota, and Maine and we hold our own with most of those states.”
Competitively, the schools are developing strong athletes that are going on to play on the collegiate and professional levels. More people are beginning to take notice of the New Jersey youth hockey community on a larger scale. Not only are strides being made by each individual program, but in recent years the NJSIAA has taken measures to ensure they are given the ability to compete at the highest level. One of the bigger concerns for the NJSIAA continues to be player safety.
“This year we have a requirement that all interscholastic ice hockey players must wear a throat and neck protector, this is required equipment for this year,” explained DuBois. “Prior to this it was never a required piece of equipment, but it is now.”
The NJSIAA follows the rules and regulations set by the National Federation of High School Ice Hockey, but requiring a neck and throat protector is a rule modification specific to the state of New Jersey. The idea to make this a requirement stemmed from the NJSIAA’s ice hockey committee last April. The committee is comprised of high school Athletic Directors, coaches and on-ice officials.
The recommendation was made with maximum player safety in mind, which has been on the front burner for all National Federation rule changes. While this particular piece of equipment isn’t required nationally this season, it could be in the future.
The biggest change that’s happened to NJSIAA’s affiliated ice hockey schools has been the number of co-ops formed and how they are formed. As of this year, the NJSIAA has begun to allow group three and group four schools to also enter co-ops, which are when two schools combine to form one team.
Schools are broken up into four groups based on enrollment numbers, with three and four being at the higher end of the spectrum. In previous years schools grouped as one or two were only allowed to enter co-ops but that has since changed.
“There were several of our schools that were at the brink of losing their ice hockey program if they could not combine with another school. In order to save ice hockey here in New Jersey for some of the schools we allowed the bigger schools, to combine and form an ice hockey co-op for the first time this year,” said DuBois.
In the past the NJSIAA has had 14 co-ops, but this season that number has jumped by a third to 21. Schools form co-ops as opposed to cutting the program entirely.
While non-public schools can form co-ops, it is the public schools that take advantage of the option. Ice hockey continues to be an expensive sport, especially with the amount of rink time that has to be rented, and public schools are restricted to a two percent budget cap. With less money going to each school, the ice hockey program is usually one of the first considered to be cut.
“The other thing with co-ops, not just financially, but a school distract that has only five or six student athletes who want to play ice hockey, now they have the opportunity to have a full-fledged team if they combine because now they can pick up another six or 10 from another school, so now they have enough for an ice hockey team. [Co-ops] cover both the financial and participation level.”
Co-ops prove that there is an interest in the schools in playing ice hockey and are used to maintain the number of participants while actually cutting down on the number of affiliated schools. It is DuBois’ hope that the schools who have formed the co-ops will eventually be able to break away from each other and form their own team again.
“I would certainly like to see some of these co-ops be standalone programs so we have a few more of our member schools on standalone ice hockey programs [again],” he said. “The tournament for New Jersey ice hockey has been very competitive and I think we will continue to have a Public A and a Public B championship, as well as the nonpublic. I don’t think any of that will change … but the state of ice hockey is very positive and very good. I just would like to see us gradually move out of all these co-ops and get these seven or eight schools to stand alone programs again.”
The 2013-2014 season practices have begun and games begin the weekend of November 29.
For more, check out NJ Youth Hockey Central.