The Oyster River and Newmarket school boards recently approved cooperative (co-op) teams for boys and girls lacrosse. The proposal was sent to the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association (NHIAA) for approval on October 10th, 2019.
The decision to become a co-op came after several years of declining participation from both teams, according to Oyster River Athletic Director Andrew Lathrop. The hope is that co-op will give Newmarket athletes the chance to play lacrosse in high school and allow both programs to have consistent JV teams so athletes can be appropriately placed by skill level. The teams would continue to play at ORHS in Division II with the same coaches as they have in the past. Lathrop, expects eight to ten athletes from Newmarket for each team.
The NHIAA handbook says, “the objective of cooperative teams is to provide educational based athletic opportunities for schools that may not be able to provide those experiences for their students.” Essentially, the handbook says that it will allow for co-ops in situations where the primary consideration is allowing students the opportunity to participate in athletics, but not in situations where the school is interested in creating a competitive advantage over the other teams in the division.
Lathrop explained that to be considered for approval both schools have to show they need the numbers. Lathrop said, “there’s a lot that goes into that. We have to show historical numbers, how they’ve been decreasing. One school has to have not had the sport before, which Newmarket hasn’t in either boys or girls. And our numbers have steadily dropped over the last five years.” Overall, Lathrop is optimistic that the lacrosse teams will be approved by the NHIAA.
For the past two seasons the boys lacrosse team has finished with only eighteen players, according to the head coach, Robert Hailey. The girls team had 28 players across the Junior Varsity (JV) and varsity teams, according to head coach, Erin Murphy-Putnam. Hailey said most programs in the state have around thirty five players between their JV and varsity teams. This makes it difficult for Oyster River to develop athletes, as they might not be in the appropriate level of play.
James Macvane, the girls JV coach, believes that this is a huge opportunity for girls at Newmarket. “Newmarket doesn’t have enough girls to field much of anything, other than a couple teams. And not everyone wants to do softball, not everyone wants to do track. So this is a great opportunity for kids who want to have an opportunity to play.”
Hailey also saw the advantage more players from Newmarket could bring. While he didn’t believe that the co-op was necessary for the survival of the team, he did believe it would be beneficial for player development. “If we could approach 30 or so players, it would allow the coaching staff the opportunity to modify our practice plans which will offer players of varying skill levels the chance to develop and grow as players.” He believes that a JV team will help players to be more prepared when they move up to varsity.
Lathrop agreed, “It’s about being able to provide the appropriate place for all of our skill levels and age groups to play.”
Noah Buteau (‘20) is on the lacrosse team and plays on the current Clipper-Cats football team, which is a Portsmouth-Oyster River co-op and plays out of Portsmouth High School. Buteau agreed that this would help make Oyster River more competitive. “I think it’ll probably allow for some more talent to come to the team cause right now we’re a little low on that. We’ll increase the amount of people and probably the competition for spots,” said Buteau.
Murphy-Putnam also noted some of the advantages for the Oyster River program as a whole. “You can build the youth programs as well cause people know, from Newmarket as well, that this is an opportunity for their kids coming up so it makes our program a little stronger too.”
Anna Mazza (‘20) plays lacrosse and plays on the co-op hockey team with Portsmouth High School. Mazza believes the change will be positive. She said of the hockey team, “we were all still super close. It didn’t matter what school you came from, we were all just a team.”
Because the team is staying at Oyster River, Newmarket players will have to make a bigger adjustment. Buteau explained that the Newmarket athletes will have to transition to become, “part of our community.” However, in Buteau’s experience with the football team, the transition was smooth and Oyster River players quickly became part of the team.
While the general outlook on the possibility was optimistic, Macvane expressed some concern that playing time across the two schools would be unequal and parents or players would get frustrated. Macvane said, “I’m hoping parents will be very open to understand: if you have fifteen kids on a roster, everyone plays. I had one year where I had twenty four kids on a roster and it’s hard to get everyone to play.”
Buteau and Murphy-Putnam each noted that travel for games and practices might be an issue for Newmarket players, but agreed that because it’s so close, it shouldn’t cause a problem.
Mazza explained the overall sentiment when she said, “it will help with the numbers and help us grow and develop more and help us have better practices, which is where you get better.”
Featured image by Arlene Alphonse.