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Imagine a high school hockey game in Holliston. Players skating the ice decked in red jerseys, fans wearing Holliston attire complete with panther logos front and center. This won’t be the sight at a girl’s hockey game, a gymnastics meet, or a swim meet where you’ll find athletes dressed in red, maroon and blue. These three sports are co-op teams combining with local towns to create a unique experience for athletes to branch off of the home court.
Co-op teams provide opportunities for students to play a sport they wouldn’t be able to play just in their hometown.
“If you have interest in a sport and you don’t have enough [athletes] to field your own team the MIAA encourages schools to get together to create a co-op,” said HHS Athletic Director Mr. Matthew Baker.
The gymnastics team is merged with Medway and Millis and the hockey team is joined with Medway, Millis, and Ashland. Both teams are based out of Medway High School. The swim team hosted by HHS is merged with Medway.
Though the process of establishing a co-op team is fairly fast, the sport still must be approved by different committees before becoming official.
“It needs to be done with a season’s notice, so for a fall [sport] you’d have that confirmed during the spring season … it happens relatively quickly. The schools come together when there is a need for it and then it’s brought to the Tri Valley League directors and then that group decides to support it. I would think in every case it’d be supported; then there’s a committee at the MIAA that approves them as well,” said Baker.
The process of having a co-op sport is a team effort, and ADs from different town must work together to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Baker says that he has good communication and relationships with the Medway, Millis and Ashland ADs, schools that Holliston has a co-op with. Baker also added that if there is ever an issue, he and the other ADs will try to stay on top of it.
The biggest issue comes from scheduling due to differences in school dismissal times and exam schedules.
“For example, in the swim season, if we have [an] afternoon meet we have to let the bus company know that [they’re] picking up Holliston then [they’re] picking up Medway … we’ll have to say Holliston pick up at 2:15, Medway pick up at 2:30 and… same situation for the drop off,” said Baker.
Gymnastics coach Breanna Vacca said that “all three towns will have completely different midterm and finals schedules” which can make scheduling practices and meets challenging.
Both Baker and Vacca find that overall, there are more benefits than challenges of having a co-op team.
“I think it’s been positive. I think you learn a lot about the other schools’ culture and I think it helps to build team leadership,” said Baker.
Even if at first teams seem divided between towns, eventually the athletes will get to know each other and bond.
Vacca said that though at the beginning, combining with another team was a “new concept,” the team eventually got used to it and it was able to “give all three towns an opportunity to do gymnastics .”
“Different towns have different personalities, so it can be hard to get along at first and you tend to want to speak to people who are just in your town. You have to branch out,” said junior and swim team member Flannery Langton.
For Langton, she finds that the older you get the easier it is to talk to people, and after a being on the team for two years, she is building better relationships with athletes from Medway and there is less tension between the towns.
Langton said that on the swim team, the tension has been “a lot less than it used to be” and that all the swimmers “talk a lot more and communicate” instead of previous years where “Holliston people [used to] hang out [with] themselves and Medway people would hang out [with] themselves,” she said.
Being a member of a co-op team allows athletes to meet people from other towns that they wouldn’t necessarily meet otherwise.
“I just like being able to [say] ‘I know people from Medway.’ Some people don’t know anyone who’s not from their town,” said Langton.
A big difference between co-op teams and single town teams is the bonding between athletes.
“When I’m with people from Holliston I find I mostly talk about school stuff because that’s what we have in common, and when I talk to someone from another town we have to find other things in common… you just talk to them on a different level, you find more connections, or at least it feels like you do,” said Langton.
Baker also thinks that being on a team made up of multiple schools causes a greater sense of leadership among towns throughout the league.
“I think it helps across the league with sportsmanship because you have groups of kids from opposing schools who in other sports are rivals, but now know each other and are friendly, so I think it creates bonds between local schools,” said Baker.
In the future, Baker is open to having more co-op teams in Holliston if it allows athletes to have the opportunity to play the sport they want to play.
“There was interest from some kids about possibly looking into a ski team. That’s probably the only one people have come to me about …. I spoke about it with the Medway and Millis ADs [and] as we get into the spring, we’ll probably talk more about it,” said Baker.
Baker thinks that though co-op teams help with participation and funding, ultimately the most rewarding part of a co-op team is the sense of community they provide.
“Almost half of the league is represented on that one team, all the athletic directors know each other, the coaches know each other, the parents get to know each other and the kids get to know each other. I think that’s a big benefit- sportsmanship and creating a bond between schools in our league,” said Baker.