Pioneer temporarily axes field hockey, looks to future

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School’s McKayla Glazier takes a shot on goal during their game against Franklin County Technical School last season. There will be no varsity field hockey at Pioneer this fall. Recorder FILE PHOTO/Matt Burkhartt

Recorder Staff
Published: 9/7/2017 10:27:59 PM

As the high school field hockey slate kicked off on Thursday, it did so with one less program in the mix.

Pioneer Valley Regional School athletic director Gina Johnson confirmed Thursday that the school was forced to cut its varsity field hockey program this fall.

The Panthers, who were slated to play in the Tri-County League against the likes of fellow Recorder-area teams Athol High School and Franklin County Technical School, had been scheduled to open its season against East Longmeadow High School on Wednesday night. Rain postponed that game and Johnson said the final decision to cut the varsity was given to players and their families on Thursday.

“It was a very difficult decision to have to make,” explained Johnson. “I know the kids aren’t happy, and who would be?”

All preseason, Pioneer was scrambling to find enough players to field the varsity team. The program began the season with 15 players on the roster, though seven of those were incoming seventh-graders. Johnson said the Pioneer district has a policy that no seventh-graders are allowed to play on a varsity team, except for the individual sports such as cross-country and golf.

“I didn’t want to set these kids up for failure,” explained Johnson of the decision. “I think there’s a lot of people who would hesitate to put seventh-graders in a varsity game. We looked at all angles to make this happen for our varsity program. We talked about playing with only seven on the field, but going seven against 11 wasn’t going to happen.”

Johnson met with the field hockey team last week and told the players that five more high school girls or boys were needed to fill the roster to a minimum capacity.

“I told them if we could do that, then we can make this go,” she began. “We advertised, the kids were after classmates trying to recruit. The numbers just aren’t in the school right now. Enrollment is down and we couldn’t make it happen for this season in time.”

Deciding to fold the program before games began means that Pioneer won’t be forfeiting games. Instead, their opponents have the opportunity to find a new foe to take their spot. The Tri-County League will reduce from six teams to five.

“We had to make that decision when we did for schools to find other games,” Johnson said. “If the season hadn’t officially started, they can replace us. I know (Franklin) Tech already replaced us. If this had happened once games had started, then we’d have to forfeit.”

Johnson said she explored the option of gaining a waiver for seventh-graders to play varsity this season, but the policy wasn’t easy to amend.

“I had asked if there was any way we can work with the school committee to try and get seventh-graders eligible,” she began. “Whatever it would take, through email or conference call, was there a way that we could get waivers for them based on just this one year and this one situation. Could we set the policy aside to try and make this happen?

“What I was told was that it was not legal,” she continued. “You have to follow the process, go to sub-committee to get the policy changed. Then sub-committee goes to school committee and you follow the proper channels. We just didn’t have time to get that done in time for this season.”

Johnson did a move toward ensuring this situation doesn’t happen again. On Thursday, she began the process of changing the policy for future seasons.

“I’ve proposed a policy change to see where it goes because we are dwindling in numbers,” she admitted. “This probably won’t be the only time this situation happens. We want everybody to be able to participate.”

The policy was just changed for this school year to allow seventh-graders to play on JV teams, padding programs as numbers are down throughout the athletic teams.

As for the rest of the fall season, the field hockey program will function as a JV squad. Johnson is looking to fill a JV schedule for the Panthers, which will still be led by varsity coach Cheryl Canuel. The good news is that no seniors are on the roster, with just one junior accompanying six sophomores, one eighth-grader and the seven seventh-graders.

Trying to put together a schedule has been a challenge, as Pioneer had a JV schedule in place but ultimately cancelled those games once the school knew it wouldn’t have enough players for two teams.

“We were really, really hoping to make this varsity team a go, so now we’re in the process of contacting those teams that have a JV program and plug them into those spots,” Johnson explained. “The problem is that there aren’t a lot of programs in the area that have JV teams, so it’s a bit of a struggle to find those games.”

While it’s a disappointing decision for all involved, Johnson said the goal is to make it through this season as a JV program and return to varsity status in 2018.

“I don’t want to lose this program,” the AD stated. “We’re going to do everything we can to not let that happen. We’re going to offer varsity next year and hope that we can get our numbers up. If these 15 players come back, there’s your varsity team, because those seventh-graders are eligible next year as eighth-graders.”

Pioneer went 7-10-1 a year ago, finishing fourth in its seven-team league. The Panthers graduated eight seniors and several others to school choice, ultimately leading to the decision that came down Thursday.


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