March is an exciting time for high school sports. The top teams in boys and girls basketball will battle for state titles soon. The boys hockey championships will be decided this weekend at Compuware Arena in Plymouth. Wrestling crowned dozens of champions last weekend at the Kellogg Center in Battle Creek.
They will all get good crowds and media coverage.
Meanwhile, in a tucked-away arena before a few parents and fellow players, the girls state hockey championships will be decided in Livonia. There might be one or two reporters at Eddie Edgar ice rink, and the results won't even appear on the Michigan High School Athletic Association website
That is because the state governing body does not recognize the sport. Some coaches and players want the MHSAA to sanction the championships. But there are not enough teams. MHSAA bylaws say a sport must have 64 schools participate or the governing board will make an exception if a sport is trending upward quickly.
The Michigan Metro Girls High School Hockey League has 18 teams. Another team from Ann Arbor is expected to join next season. The Walled Lake team is made up of girls from Walled Lake Northern, Western and Central high schools.
Under the radar
Girl's hockey is hamstrung by high costs and the perception travel hockey provides better paths to college scholarships. It is difficult to recruit new players because schools do not announce scores to the student body. Forget about getting information on the MHSAA website. When you click on girls hockey on some school websites it sends you to information on boys hockey.
Much of the cost, which runs from $1,500 to $3,500 per player, is picked up by parents. One parent said the only thing they got from the school was a hockey bag with the team logo on it.
As it stands, there is little chance of girls ice hockey becoming a sanctioned sport.
"I think it is a little upsetting now these days that they (players) cannot get recognized," said Farmington Hills Mercy coach Brandon Malinowski. "But I kind of understand it. That is what the rule is. Unfortunately, the girls cannot be seen. I know where the state is coming from. It will take time."
Cranbrook High School coach Terry Brooks was more vocal. He has coached girls hockey for 15 years and has three state titles, but his team goes unnoticed even at the school.
"I don't understand why they are not given the recognition," Brooks said. "Not just by the MHSAA but in the high school athletic world. It does not seem fair to me."
Coaches do this as a labor of love because many of them played hockey at the junior and collegiate level. Nothing will change until the sport grows across the state.
MHSAA executive director Randy Allen said none of the coaches has approached the association about membership. He said a group of athletic directors met with the governing board a few years ago but were told they need more members. Allen said the association governing board would listen if approached by ADs. But it is unlikely the MHSAA will budge until the number of players grows.
"We don't see a lot of growth in the sport," Allen said.
The state is seeing more growth in field hockey, lacrosse and pom pom dance. Field hockey is not a sanctioned sport but has a better chance of growing because administrators are reaching down to the middle school level and recruiting soccer players and track and field athletes and teaching them the game.
The trouble with travel
One problem for ice hockey is many girls play travel hockey, which is more competitive. Some of the girls never played any form of hockey before high school, so there are wider disparities of talent on the ice. Then there's that thought it's easier to earn college scholarships in the travel leagues. However, Grosse Pointe South, Grosse Pointe North and Cranbrook have sent girls to NCAA Division I schools. The Michigan Metro Girls High School Hockey League has its own website and mimics the boys program as close as possible. It selects all-state teams and will gather some of the top girls in the league and play summer tournaments.
"We are trying to grow the game, and in my opinion we cross that bridge (of being sanctioned) when we get there," said Grosse Pointe South coach Joe Provenzano.
There are encouraging signs. For instance there are more girls playing hockey at Cranbrook (40) than boys. There is a varsity and junior varsity program, and nobody gets cut.
Madeline McClain is a senior at Mercy and is the league's top scorer with 45 goals and 12 assists. She grew up in a hockey family. Her brothers, Andrew Godoshian and Michael McCain, played and she followed.
"Boys hockey is such a big deal," McClain said. "I understand there are more boys teams and they should get more recognition. I think it is unfair and there should be more acknowledgements of girl sports in general."
John Walker of Walled Lake believes the sport can grow if financing can be found for interested families on a budget. He said he pays about $2,000 a year for his daughter Kayleigh, who plays for the Walled Lake Wild. Walker said his daughter's cost for playing high school hockey is not much different than playing for a Tier 2 travel team.
"It (costs) might be out of the reach for some families," Walker said. "It is not like you are paying $400 and you're good to go. Our daughter Kayleigh loves playing for the high school more than Tier II. But you've got to find ways to get more families involved by helping them financially."