Hockey is back at West Potomac High School, but you won’t find the team’s games advertised on campus or on the school’s athletic web site. Hockey is on a long list of activities that are officially prohibited from the Fairfax County Public Schools, along with odd or extinct pastimes like break dancing, jello and pudding wrestling and dodgeball.
FCPS officials say that the ban is largely because of the cost of insuring a sport that is considered risky and the fact that it’s considered a less-popular sport. But that hasn’t stopped West Potomac junior Alex Holm and a host of other hockey enthusiasts from devising a way to bring hockey to the school. Sort of.
“It’s my favorite sport,” Holm said. “And I was kind of surprised that a lot of other schools in the area had teams but we didn’t.”
In trying to figure out how to create a hockey team at the school, Holm and his cohorts faced two big obstacles. The ban makes it impossible for the school to fund or recognize a team, and there simply aren’t very many students who have played the sport.
Last year a team was formed with the help of Ron Giovannucci, a criminal justice teacher at the school who loves hockey. Giovannucci became the team’s faculty sponsor and helped create a “hockey interest club,” which partnered with Briar Woods High School in Ashburn to form a team. As an “interest club,” the team can have meetings on school grounds, but otherwise there is no real official connection between the team and the school, financial or otherwise.
The practical effect of the arrangement is that hockey is considered an unaffiliated, junior varsity club sport, and the insurance is handled through USA Hockey—the country’s official hockey federation. Players need to raise the $500 annual fee that pays for ice time and other expenses on their own and through organized fundraisers. Despite the logistical hurdles, Holm’s mother, Elizabeth, said that there are also advantages to being the West Potomac Ice Hockey Team, rather than the West Potomac High School Ice Hockey team.
“At first I was frustrated with the situation,” she said. “But it’s become workable, and the good thing is we get more control of the team since it’s not through the school.”
Last year the team tied one game but lost all the rest as they struggled to compete against teams which had played together for years.
“A lot of our boys also played for a very successful club team called the Ice Dogs, which is through the Mt. Vernon Rec Center,” said the team’s coach, Bob Soule, whose son Bobby is a center on the team. “And some of the teams we competed against were similar to us, but other teams, which should have been varsity teams, just blew us out.”
Despite the win/loss record, Soule said that the team played spirited hockey and bonded together as a group. This season, they’ll pair with George Mason High School in Falls Church, which makes more sense logistically than Briar Woods due to proximity.
The team’s first practice is Sept. 30, and Holm can’t wait for the season to arrive.
“The hardest part of last year was learning to compete as a team,” he said. “I think this year now that we’ve had a year to grow as a team and play together, we’ll be better. But I’m just happy we have a team.”