Why Is Hockey Not a Virginia High School Sport?

Photo+courtesy+of+South+Lakes+Ice+Hockey%28sl_seahawks_hockey%2FInstagram%29

Photo courtesy of South Lakes Ice Hockey(sl_seahawks_hockey/Instagram)

Marc Goldstein, Sports Editor

Ice hockey is one of the most recognizable winter sports in the country, but somehow it is not an official sport, according to Virginia High School League (VHSL). Less than ¼ of states have hockey as an official high school sport. The states that do recognize it, seem to be the obvious choices: Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Massachusetts (among others). Nonetheless, the players for the South Lakes hockey team deserve the recognition they have earned.

Photo via Drew Kulick

The main question is: Why isn’t hockey a high school sport? The obvious answer would be that it is dangerous, in the sense that players skate around hitting each other. This can’t be the only reason, because football is just as much of a contact sport. The facilities seem to be the answer to the question, and the one that is the most justifiable. Most schools don’t have a hockey rink on campus, or don’t have it locally. For example, many high school hockey clubs in the Northern Virginia area use the Ashburn Ice Rink for practices and games, because there are so few rinks in this area. Conversely, in Minnesota, there are many rinks and venues for hockey, because of how popular the sport is there. Those reasons make it easier for the high schools in Virginia to not have hockey as an official sport, because they are not liable for injury or to find a place for the athletes to practice. 

The official reason given as to why VHSL doesn’t recognize hockey as a sport is because the turnout is low across the entirety of the state. That isn’t true for Northern Virginia, but areas in the Southern area of the state have very low turnout for ice hockey. South Lakes and 25 other high schools in the area play in the NVSHL (Northern Virginia School Hockey League) to get around the lack of official recognition, and still maintain competition. Established in 2009 by parents, the South Lakes Hockey program is run completely on private funds provided by parents and other donors. The players all play for other leagues such as the Reston Raiders, among others. The whole organization is non-profit, and without any funding from the schools, only parents can donate to the club. The Board, composed of a Manager, Treasurer, Fundraising Chair and Activities Chair, find ways around this funding problem. They have raffles that give entrants a chance to win Capitals tickets as a prize. 

This season, the team was composed of 19 players, six managers, and two coaches, a demonstration of the growth of the program offered to students. They have a Co-Ed roster containing players of all ages and skill levels. The team played in 10 games, with a possible playoff afterward. They play on Friday nights, with practices on most weeks at the Skatequest in Reston, which is considered their home ice. This season, the Seahawks Ice Hockey team celebrated Senior Night with seniors. They were thanked for their devotion to not only playing their sport but also helping to better the program and improve it from the condition they found it in. 

The players practice at the same time as other high schools, creating an interesting dynamic where they can both do drills, but also scrimmage and practice with realistic scenarios. They recruit players just like any other club would: word of mouth. Social media has helped, with teams being able to post about games and events, so they can spread the word about the club. The South Lakes Hockey Club also participated in the Homecoming Parade to represent the club they worked so hard to establish and encourage people to attend the games that have free admission: a perk for any high school student. 

When asked about the biggest lesson that playing ice hockey teaches, players shared that it’s “sharp decision making.” The biggest thing in hockey is reacting to the different situations that occur, in a quick fashion. The pace creates unexpected scenarios for players that have little time to react. This skill is key in not only hockey, but life. The best thing, though, about playing South Lakes Ice Hockey is the speed and thrill they experience while racing down the ice for a puck. So while ice hockey is not an official sport, that doesn’t make a difference to the South Lakes Ice Hockey players, who are enjoying every second they have playing the sport they love, no matter what they are classified as officially.