Public support and criticism have followed ’s decision to shelve its girls hockey program team this winter. Waning participation over the last decade and the school’s inability to strike co-op teams with other schools led to the decision.
“We saw that there would come a time when [our hockey program] wouldn't be sustainable," Richfield High School Athletic Director Todd Olson told Richfield Patch Wednesday. "For the girls, that time came this year, which was one year earlier than anticipated."
Along with the decision, Richfield worked with the Richfield Youth Hockey Association for all but one of its players to have the option of joining the U14, U16 or U19 teams. .
How the Decision Was Made
Alarmed by declining interest, Olson said he and the Richfield Youth Hockey Association increased their recruiting efforts. At the same time, they approached other area schools—Holy Angels, Bloomington’s Kennedy High School and others—about forming a co-op, but none agreed to combine teams.
Fewer than 10 Richfield girls had committed to playing this season—at least five short of a full team. Olson said parents, players and coaches agreed to disband the team for the season.
"The Richfield Youth Hockey Association was waiting for the call from the high school [saying] that kids would be coming back," Olson said.
Readers, Parents Weigh In
Reaction from parents and community members appears mixed.
"From my perspective, forming the cooperative is a great benefit to the players, the schools and the community at large," wrote in a comment to Richfield Patch.
On the other side, an anonymous parent—self-identified only as ""—.
"It is unfortunate that this situation took place,” he wrote. “It is very sad that more wasn’t done proactively in the previous 3 years leading to this, rather than reactively now.”
In a personal e-mail to Richfield Patch, Spartan Fan—who wished to remain anonymous to spare children from any backlash—also suggested that Olson had "created an environment" within the school and community that deterred parents from voicing concerns, out of fear of a fallout for their children.
Olson said he understood parents' frustrations and respected their concerns, though he added that none of these were brought up during the group discussion with parents and players, nor were they brought back to him after he and coaches left the room so parents and players could discuss the issue in private. In the end, Olson said, someone had to be the bad guy.
"I ultimately have to make the decision,” Olson said. "But there was lack of participation, lack of interest and lack of sustainability."
The Future of Richfield High School Hockey
Richfield isn’t the only city struggling to sustain sports programs, according to Olson. He mentioned other cities—such as Columbia Heights, New Hope and St. Paul—that have already or will be forced to either form co-ops or eliminate programs. Issues such as the aging population of a city, economic conditions and cultural changes can also be attributed to the declining interest in hockey.
Olson also reported that Richfield’s boys program is also at risk, estimating another two or three years before he, parents and players face a similar decision. Officials are already pursuing co-op options.
If anything, Olson added, disbanding the girls team has gained the school some visibility in the “co-op marketplace.”
“[It] showed other schools just how serious we were about finding a solution,” he said.
Editor's Note: Richfield Patch invites more parents, players, community members and coaches to comment on the situation in the comments section below. We are currently working on another story from the perspective of a player.