A move towards increasing regionalization in female minor hockey has been met with strong resistance in Antigonish.
Hockey Nova Scotia (HNS) created six zones in 2015 which included Antigonish Minor Hockey Association (AMHA) being placed in the Fundy-Highland Zone with Pictou County and Colchester County associations.
The rationale for the move, as stated in an Aug. 2 statement from HNS, which appeared on their website in light of concerns coming from Antigonish stakeholders, includes; “improve administration, to get female leagues up and running earlier in the season, and see female players playing with and against those of a similar skill set.”
The statements adds that the “framework” for minor hockey is not working “as well as it could” for female hockey.
“The 33 minor hockey associations that minor hockey uses were streamlined to six female hockey regional zone committees to help improve this administration,” the statement notes.
The statement stresses the model is not new but then does state that, “at some point down the road, female council would like to see these female hockey zone committees become fully functional female hockey associations (like the one in Metro West),” a reference to an already develop association comprised of Halifax, Sackville, Chebucto, TASA and Bedford minor hockey associations.
“Hockey Nova Scotia has not mandated that any of the five remaining zones that administer female hockey must become female hockey associations,” the statement adds. “This decision has been left up to the female hockey zone committees in those regions to determine when they are ready. Once these zones committees determine they are ready, there is a process in place that must be followed to satisfy Hockey Nova Scotia prior to any final approval.”
Still, it’s the developing aspect of the zone model which has sparked local female hockey enthusiasts Frank Isherwood and Jennifer Connors into pushing back against the gradual regionalization move and led to a 77-2 vote against being involved during an Aug. 3 special AMHA meeting.
“Paying more, playing less,” Connors stated about moving into a Fundy-Highland Association.
“To join this new association, we are essentially going to be paying more and we’re going to be playing less,” she said, the first part of her statement a reference, in part, to AMHA’s 50/50 draw helping keep costs down for families.
Isherwood, speaking to the Casket the following day, talked more about the meeting and vote.
“From our point of view, it turned out great,” he said.
“In the end, the most important thing is, because it was a special meeting called by Antigonish Minor Hockey Association, their bylaws specify that when there is a special meeting called and a vote taken, then anyone at the meeting that has somewhat of an official capacity with AMHA has a vote. So that meant all parents and all people who had a position, like a coach, manager, that kind of thing. So, basically, almost everyone there had a vote and they voted 96.2 in favour of staying with and registering with AMHA.”
Isherwood noted guest speakers at the meeting included long-time, former junior ‘A’ and ‘B’ Bulldogs coach and GM Danny Berry, current Farmers’ Mutual Jr. Bulldogs president Miles Tompkins, former Antigonish Mayor Carl Chisholm and 19-year-old former minor association player Emma Boutilier.
“Who started out in Puppy Dogs which is a program I started many years ago and went right through the minor hockey system,” Isherwood said of Boutilier.
“She gave four reasons why being part of AMHA has helped make her the person she is, and she has won a number of awards, including the Duke of Edinburgh Award for volunteer work, and she continues to volunteer a lot in our community. She said it all came about by being a part of the Antigonish Bulldogs’ system and said it would have been very unlikely she would have been able to do the same thing if the female program was under the roof of Fundy-Highland.”
He talked about the general consensus in the room.
“Nearly everyone in the room strongly agreed with the concept that; we as a hockey organization here in Antigonish, and we feel it’s probably the same in many rural communities, want to control, because we have for many, many years, our hockey programs,” he said.
“Basically, the statement to Hockey Nova Scotia is, we’re going to register with Antigonish Minor Hockey. At this point, that will be conveyed to Hockey Nova Scotia and the Fundy-Highland Association and our next hurdle will be, if Hockey Nova Scotia sticks to its plans and prevents us from allowing our female teams to compete against other female teams in the province, than the battle is really on.”
He talked about the fact that registering with Fundy-Highland was already done last year.
“Last year, unbeknownst to me, we registered with this Fundy-Highland registry,” he said.
“As I told the group, that is their first step, that’s how they dip their toe in your association. Then, the next thing is, they get you to start paying them your fees and, after that, they have you … now you are under their control.
“We made it quite clear, it’s best to have absolutely nothing to do with them; no registration, no nothing. So, I think, the majority of parents in Antigonish will not register with them and they’ll take the risk, at least for a while, that we might have to battle to get our female teams playing other female teams in the province. That’s a possibility and that was made clear at the meeting by Martin (McLaren, AMHA president).
“We really feel strongly that sometimes you have to take a stand and fight.”