By Nick Beversdorf
Last night the Merrill Area Board of Education voted to have the Merrill boys hockey team join a co-op with Wausau East. The Wausau School district had approved the co-op for their hockey team a few weeks earlier.
MHS Activities Director Rick Bonnell, who had initially proposed the co-op, says that it will allow more Merrill hockey players to play at their skill level by having enough players to play on junior varsity teams and have quicker rotations during games, in addition to helping with the overall safety of the players.
“The Merrill hockey team does not have enough players to form another team, so most players are forced to play in varsity games even if their skill levels are not up to it,” says Rick Bonnell. “This causes a safety issue where lower skilled players are more susceptible to getting injured in games they may not be ready for. Also, the longer amount of time players are in the game before they rotate out causes heavy fatigue. We have had many games where we were playing strong in the 1st and 2nd period but simply got too tired to keep up in the 3rd.”
Rick said that both him and head hockey coach Bill Hauswirth are very excited about the co-op. Rick also said that not only are all of the Merrill players and parents on board with the co-op, but also that the vast majority of Wausau East players and parents are on board with it as well, with only a couple Wausau parents hesitant because of a potential reduction in playing time for their senior kids.
One concern that was brought up included the equality of the playtime and arena usage. Rick addressed this concern, saying that practice and game locations would be split as evenly as possible between Merrill and Wausau East. He did note, however that the Merrill High School would be the host, or “go-to” school for tournament and WIAA purposes.
Another concern was what would happen if the co-op didn’t work out or dissolved over time. Rick asserted that the co-op would be set for only two years, and that if it didn’t work out they could go back to a regular hockey team. The motion was amended with the 2 year stipulation, to be renewed if the co-op is a success.
Rick and Bill had not yet gotten to the point were they started thinking about team names and logos, but said that could be a potential team-building exercise for the new team. Rick also said that the Booster Club and other fundraising events will remain mostly unchanged except for the fact there may be some crossover with Wausau East.
The motion, as amended, passed almost unanimously with School Board Vice President Jeff Hetfield being the only nay. He expressed concern over the necessity of a co-op and that it could ruin the hockey team.
“I don’t think a co-op is a good idea,” said Jeff Hetfield. “With the current situation I don’t think the Merrill hockey team is in danger of dying and the co-op provides no advantage to Merrill.”
Rick commented that the hockey team will be more successful with the co-op, which would breed more interest in the sport. The motion passed and the 2016-2017 winter sports season will consist of the new hockey co-op.
Merrill varsity hockey finished their season with a record of 2-9 in the Valley Conference, tying with Marshfield for 5th place. Wausau East placed last in the conference. MHS juniors Austin Burgener and Bryce Broeking were named All-Conference honorable mentions for the 2015-2016 hockey season.