If you’re looking to attend an ORHS football, girls hockey, boys lacrosse or girls lacrosse game this year, you’ll notice that Oyster River students aren’t the only ones sporting the Bobcat uniform.
Since 2016, students from Portsmouth High School also have had the opportunity to play girls hockey at Oyster River. Starting in the fall of 2018, Oyster River High School students have had the opportunity to play on the Portsmouth-Oyster River Clipper-Cats football team. If approved by the NHIAA, starting this spring Newmarket students will be able to play for the girls and boys lacrosse teams. For more info on the lacrosse co-op, check out Susanna Serrano’s article “Oyster River and Newmarket Lacrosse Join Forces”
Co-op teams exist all over the state of New Hampshire, especially in sports like hockey and football that have lower participation and are more costly than other sports, according to ORHS Athletic Director Andy Lathrop. So what do athletes really think about playing on the same team as kids from a different school?
Alec Damsell (‘20) has been on the Clipper-Cats football team since the school district approved allowing ORHS students to play for Portsmouth High School. Damsell says that on his team, the bonds created between teammates are just as strong as any other team that he’s been a part of. “It is really interesting to see how the two communities interact. They’re kind of separate, but there’s also a togetherness that I don’t think you’d find with just a one school team. The bonds you form on a co-op team are just as strong and legitimate as any non co-op team, if you put in the work to reach a common goal.”
Logan Flynn (‘20) is one of Damsell’s teammates and plays for both the co-op football team and the school baseball team. Flynn said that the Clipper-Cats were really welcoming to the Oyster River players. “They did a good job of taking us in with open arms and teaching us what we needed to know and putting us on an accelerated path to catch up with them.”
So far, Lathrop has seen a lot of benefits of having cooperative teams. One of the benefits is that it allows athletes to play with kids that they wouldn’t usually play with. “It’s cool to see that comradery between two schools that probably play against each other in other sports, and then come together and are one team in another sport… I think there’s been some good friendships developed out of these and opportunities for kids to meet other kids.”
Laura Dreher (‘20) has played on the Clipper-Cats girls’ ice hockey team and ORHS field hockey team since her freshman year. Dreher felt that the general distance between teammates makes things on a co-op team difficult. Dreher added that team bonding activities that build team community such as spags or after school activities are a lot harder on the ice hockey team compared to the field hockey team, due to players living further away.
Distance can be seen as an issue for the football team as well. When it comes to difficulties with a co-op team, Damsell’s only issue is having to drive 20 minutes to practice every day after school. Flynn also saw the time commitment as the biggest issue. Flynn said that in addition to driving forty minutes total to and from Portsmouth, the practices usually last two and a half hours.
Another thing Flynn saw as an issue is that he couldn’t play until his junior year, causing him to miss two years of development. “It’s a bummer that some of us went in halfway through our high school careers because we were just kind of behind, and it’s hard to get a starting job that way.”
While there may be issues with the cooperative team, when asked if he wished the school had its own football team, Damsell didn’t have a definite answer. “Yes and no. Yes because it would make transportation a lot better, but then I wouldn’t have ever met all of my current teammates.”
Damsell discussed what he believed the school district should do to improve the situation. “What I would like is for the Oyster River School District to pay for us to play over at Portsmouth.” Currently, the cost for Oyster River students playing football at Portsmouth is $500 a year. According to Lathrop, this is due to the cooperative agreement with Portsmouth. Currently, no other sports at Oyster River, other than ice hockey because of the cost of ice, and skiing because it’s not school funded, require any payment.
Flynn said he would prefer the one school format to the co-op, as he feels it would be easier. “You see the guys every day in school so you can stay in communication with them. They do a really good job at Portsmouth with communicating with us, but we’re at the back end of it sometimes and it’s kind of a pain.”
Another reason he would prefer the school to have their own team is the competition level and size. Currently, the Clipper-Cats play in Division I, but if the school had its own team, it would play in Division II as does every other ORHS team. “I would much rather play D2 or D3 where our biggest kids match up with their biggest kids. At Oyster River, probably the biggest kid in the school is like an average-sized lineman at Portsmouth.” Due to a shortage in participation, Oyster River doesn’t have their own team.
For the ice hockey team, Dreher is happy that the team decided to combine with Portsmouth. This is because if the school had its own team, the roster would be very short. “Before we took in Portsmouth we had barely any players…girls were crying because they would play the whole game and wouldn’t get any subs. They wanted these new players so badly because they needed more people.” Dreher said she prefers the one school style, but the numbers make it a necessity to have a co-op ice hockey team.
ORHS is the lead school in ice hockey, but not football. This means for the hockey team that Oyster River is responsible for all of the day to day operations of the sport. Lathrop also added that the main reason for the hockey team, the co-op is there to keep the sport at the school. Without the co-op, there would be a potential for the team to not have enough players for a full team.
In order for a cooperative team to happen, the two schools have to apply for an application with the NHIAA. The application has to be approved by each sports committee, the classification committee and then the council. Lathrop said that this process hasn’t been a difficult one. “The NHIAA and the standing committees are very supportive of keeping sports. They don’t want teams to dissolve because they don’t have numbers, and that’s why those cooperatives are there.” Lathrop noted that cooperative teams are rarely denied.
Lathrop added that if participation grew exceedingly, there would be a possibility for one of the co-op agreements to end. “If you have enough numbers that you’re fielding JV and Freshman teams they’re not going to approve your co-op.” However, Lathrop doesn’t see any of the co-ops disbanding in the near future.
Written by Alden Swiesz
Images by PHS Football and ORHS