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Hockey programs fall through the thin ice

South Boston’s hockey history includes this Division 1 championship in 1974, but the high school won’t be sending any more skaters over the boards - the program is being shut down. South Boston’s hockey history includes this Division 1 championship in 1974, but the high school won’t be sending any more skaters over the boards - the program is being shut down. (Globe File Photo)
By Bob Hohler
Globe Staff / June 26, 2009
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The long, storied tradition of hockey at South Boston High School is dead. It expired after Southie forfeited in the City League playoffs in February for the third straight year.

“We’re shutting the program down,’’ Boston schools athletic director Ken Still announced in frustration.

First-year coach Barry Collins said he forfeited the playoff game to send a message to his team that poor academic performance is unacceptable. A number of players squandered their academic eligibility during the season.

South Boston’s forfeits in the previous playoffs involved coaches using ineligible skaters and failing to prevent misconduct on the ice.

“You have a lot of good kids here who shouldn’t be punished for what their predecessors did,’’ Collins said. “Why hurt them?’’

There is plenty of pain to go around as hockey wheezes toward its demise in the Boston schools. Though youth leagues are flourishing, the city’s best skaters have continued a decades-long flight to private and parochial schools, contributing to a drop in the number of boys teams at Boston schools from 13 in the 1980s to five. And there appears no end to the decline.

“I get scared about the number of kids coming out,’’ said East Boston coach Robert Anthony. “Some of the city teams are starting to become dinosaurs, starting to become extinct.’’

South Boston played a game early in the season with 11 skaters wearing six different types of uniforms, looking like a pickup team. By the time they reached the playoffs, they had enough matching uniforms but not enough focus on their schoolwork.

“I wanted to run a good, clean program the right way,’’ Collins said. “The message was, ‘If you don’t get the grades, you don’t skate, and you don’t put someone else’s uniform on and say you’re him.’ I was trying to resurrect the program.’’

Collins, who is a history teacher at Excel High School at the South Boston Education Complex and also assists the South Boston baseball coach, said he had been looking forward to investing another year or two in rebuilding the hockey team. Sadly, he presided over the final campaign of a program that reached the Division 1 state finals in 1974 and Division 3 title game in 1990.

“It’s a devastating thing,’’ former Boston schools athletic director Rocky DiLorenzo, who attended South Boston High School. “It’s a shame to see it happen.’’

With the Southie program shuttered, the only remaining boys hockey teams are Latin, Latin Academy, East Boston, Snowden, and West Roxbury. Charlestown has tried to revive its program, most recently in 2006, without success.

“All the Townies have gone to play somewhere else, like Arlington Catholic, Malden Catholic, and Belmont Hill,’’ said Charlestown football and baseball coach George Farro.

Only one Charlestown High student, Cameron Harrington, played hockey this year. He commuted to East Boston to play for Anthony.

Snowden and West Roxbury appear the most endangered remaining teams. Snowden started some games last winter with a lineup that included three girls and a seventh-grade boy, while West Roxbury tried to get by with numerous first-time players.

Snowden, as a co-op team, draws players from Brighton, Fenway, and O’Bryant high schools. Even so, coach Joe Natola struggled to fill his roster.

“It gets harder and harder every year to recruit kids who know the game,’’ Natola said. “We have a lot of beginners, and I can’t put them in games until I’m comfortable they aren’t going to hurt themselves or someone else.’’

Boston public schools make themselves less attractive to skilled players by funding only one coach per team and providing only two 50-minute practice sessions a week.

“It makes it difficult for us to coach kids who know the game and teach the kids who don’t,’’ Natola said.

East Boston and Latin Academy each qualified in February for the state tournament but suffered lopsided first-round losses.

“We have to do more as a city to get kids involved in hockey in the schools,’’ Anthony said. “I would hate to see any more programs fold.’’

more from part 6