Ice skating is much harder than it looks.
Captain of the obvious statement, right? But there’s no simpler way to sum up exactly why young players are helping girls ice hockey continue to grow on the North Shore.
Peabody High’s co-operative program added players from Higgins Middle School this season, a first for the seven-year-old Tanners. Marblehead, which has had middle school kids from town in the past, has added younger players from co-op partners Swampscott and Manchester-Essex this season as well.
The result is more players and bigger, healthier programs.
“This is the first time I haven’t had any seniors ... and it’s the most kids I’ve ever had on the ice,” said Emily Hudak, who has 83 wins entering her eighth season as the Lady Headers’ coach.
Looking around the area, Masconomet doesn’t have any middle schoolers on its roster, though it does have 12 freshmen. The Chieftains expanded their co-op to include Triton along with North Andover, Hamilton-Wenham and Georgetown, and have a healthy roster of 24 girls.
Beverly, which is in a co-op with Danvers, doesn’t have middle school players but has in the past. Bishop Fenwick, meanwhile, is a stand-alone program with 19 girls in just its second varsity season; 10 of those are sophomores.
On the surface, middle schoolers playing high school sports may seem strange. You wouldn’t see the local Babe Ruth baseball all-star team on the same diamond as the high school junior varsity, much less varsity. You wouldn’t expect a town soccer team to match up with the likes of high school stars Caitlin Harty or Hayley Dowd.
It’s certainly not unprecedented, however. The most famous local example might be Brianne Stepherson, who dominated for the Masconomet girls basketball team for six years and graduated in 1998. More recently, St. John’s Prep sophomore Keith Leavitt played varsity baseball at Manchester-Essex as an eighth grader in 2010.