As of the 2018-19 school year, Valley Regional High School and Lyme-Old Lyme High School share five co-op sports teams: football, cheerleading, swimming, fencing and ice hockey. Three of the five teams were formed in the last three years.
“Co-ops just give us more of an opportunity to allow athletes to experience sports on the high school level that they wouldn’t be able to play otherwise,” said Gregg Simon, the associate executive director for the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC). “If a few schools do not have enough athletes to field teams, it’s great when they can come together to form co-ops.”
According to Simon, southeastern Connecticut is the home of co-ops. Students from Essex, Deep River, Chester, Old Saybrook, East Lyme, East Haven, East Hampton, Killingworth, Haddam, Westbrook, Madison, Durham, Middlefield and Rockfall all share at least one sport with Lyme and Old Lyme.
This fall the number of football co-op teams across the state is up to 21 and the number of football athletes statewide is now 1,716, less than ten years ago, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Football and ice hockey are the two sports that schools most commonly co-op.
“In the case of hockey, there are not enough athletes in the building at all. Co-ops provide these athletes an opportunity they never would have had,” Simon said. “For football it is not as large an issue, but so many athletes are needed to be able to field a team that there are minimum numbers to go on your own. Without that minimum it makes a lot of sense for high schools to join teams.”
Although a decrease in students and an increase in co-op teams across the state may seem like a concern for high school sports as students need to travel further for both practices and games, Simon said they have yet to see any problems.
“You can say you’ve lost teams because of the number of co-ops, or you can argue that you would lose a lot more teams if schools weren’t allowed to form co-ops,” Simon said. “It does not hurt our number of teams, schools wouldn’t even have teams without this option.”
Logistically, however, co-op teams can be quite a challenge for the schools involved. For example, nearly every shoreline town plays ice hockey in East Haven or Madison, a more than 30 minute drive for many students.
“it is definitely a challenge for teams that are involved in co-ops. Practices often occur right after school and getting all the students there can be very difficult,” Simon said. “But schools work really hard to make sure their kids have this chance.”
Before forming a co-op, the towns involved must apply to CIAC in order to be approved. Towns must demonstrate that they are geographically compatible to reduce travel time for students as much as possible. In addition, towns need to show they are below the minimum number of kids needed for the sport, they must agree to a no-cut policy and they must not be formed for competitive or financial advantage, according to CIAC.
“Co-ops are not about winning. They are about participating and that is explained very clearly in our rules,” Simon said. “They can’t just form a mega team.”
According to Ian Neviaser, superintendent in Lyme-Old Lyme, there is no current plan for forming any new co-op teams.
“As for other sports, it is possible, but right now we do not have any definitive plans to do so,” Neviaser said. “There are a number of factors to consider including, but not limited to, enrollment, student interest, and availability of game and practice areas.”