WINSLOW — Doug Veilleux, who started the Winslow High School girls ice hockey program in 2003, was there. Gary Libby, the Winslow girls ice hockey booster’s president, was there, too. So was Winslow girls hockey coach Chris Downing, as well as a number of Winslow student-athletes who were still in their softball uniforms after finishing a game with Nokomis about a half hour earlier.
They were all inside the library at Winslow Junior High School, where the school board met Monday night to discuss, among other items, the elimination of the girls hockey program.
Veilleux, Libby, and Downing all spoke, as did Libby’s daughter, Hillary, and Messalonskee boys hockey coach Mike Latendresse. In the end, the board voted to table the issue, saying that if the girls ice hockey program had enough numbers to field a team next season, it would work to adjust the fall budget.
“I’m very happy for the girls,” Downing said. “We’ve got some work ahead of us, but we’ll take that challenge.”
Eric Haley, superintendent of AOS 92, began the discussion of the issue by saying the board’s recommendation was to eliminate the girls ice hockey program. Haley later stressed that the school budget — which did not include girls hockey — had already been submitted, and the budget would need to be revised if the board reversed its recommendation.
The supporters of the program leaned much more toward “polite” than “contentious.” Gary Libby said there were 10 girls who were committing to play for the team next season, but last winter Winslow had eight players and then picked up five new players before the season started.
“The 13 kids on the ice all lettered this year, because everyone played every single game,” Veilleux said.
Libby said that Latendresse was helping the team come up with ways to save some of the expenses of running the program. Latendresse said the overall savings would be between $6,000 and $7,000. Haley said the money budgeted to run the girls hockey program last season was $30,000.
Asked what made up that $30,000 figure, Winslow athletic director Jason Briggs said, “Transportation, ice time, coaches’ stipends, contracted services — which includes officials and that sort of thing.” Briggs said transportation costs are larger in girls ice hockey because of the lack of nearby teams.
“The closest trip is Leavitt/EL,” Briggs said. “Everything’s an hour plus, so transportation does become costly.”
Haley later added, “What really drove this is the addition of another sport,” noting that Winslow is adding boys and girls lacrosse.
Downing, who also coaches the Mt. View softball team, had a game in Thorndike and arrived late to the meeting. Given the chance to speak, Downing asked the board to reconsider dropping the program.
“We just want the opportunity to be there on Nov. 4,” Downing said. “If the numbers aren’t there, we tip our hat and say thank you. But I think the numbers will be there.”
In response to a board member’s question, Downing said a team would need 13 healthy players — 12 skaters and a goalie — to play without issues. After the meeting, he was asked why he is confident Winslow will reach that number of players in time to play the season.
“Simply because the girls (who) are playing are going to pass the word to their friends,” he said. “You can step on the ice and try something new, and end up, by the end of the season, being a very competitive team. That’s what we did last year.”
The cost of hockey can be prohibitive for some families, but Downing said after the meeting that equipment costs would not be an issue for interested players.
“We have former players (who) have said that they would donate their equipment,” Downing said. “We have, in Mr. Latendresse, an opportunity to have some traded-in equipment, and we have boosters that will support kids. If it’s an equipment issue, we will find the equipment for the girls.”
The picture of whether Winslow will have a girls ice hockey team next winter will become clearer after this summer. But for those involved with the team it’s better than walking away from Monday’s meeting knowing there won’t be a team at all.
“I’m hoping that when it comes to hockey season, that we’ll be able to keep it,” Hillary Libby said. “It does mean a lot to me and all of my friends. I stopped playing basketball in fifth grade, and decided to pick (hockey) up in eighth grade.”
“That’s all we want,” Downing said. “Just give us a chance.”