The Old Town-Orono Black Bears, a cooperative ice hockey team combining players from Old Town and Orono High Schools, was approved by a unanimous vote of the Maine Principals’ Association’s Scholastic Management Committee in Augusta on Thursday.
The merger between the rival schools became a necessity because Orono was looking at the prospect of having only six players next season which would have meant the end of the program. Thirteen of the team’s 17 players will graduate and only two were expected to join the program in next year’s freshman class, according to Orono athletic director Mike Archer.
Old Town will return 13 of its 17 players, 11 who were either freshmen or sophomores this season, but the Coyotes went 0-18.
The two schools played in Eastern Maine Class B and the cooperative team will remain in Eastern B beginning next season.
Old Town-Orono will be the 10th cooperative team among the 43 schoolboy hockey teams in the state.
Archer and Old Town athletic director Brett Hoogterp attended Thursday’s session in Augusta.
“It went very well. They let us both speak on behalf of the program, and then the committee went into executive session and voted,” said Archer.
“We’ve very happy about this,” Hoogterp added.
The two communities formed a committee after the season to explore the merger and Hoogterp said Archer “deserves a lot of credit for the way he organized things and put everything together. Everybody had a voice, everybody had input. It wasn’t just one or two people who made the decisions. Mike did a lot of work behind the scenes.”
Players from both schools have favored the move as they have played hockey together until they reached high school.
“I definitely think it’s a good idea,” said Old Town winger Lizzy Colannino in a previous story. “We’ve played together since we were five years old.”
“I didn’t know if I was going to be playing hockey next year. It’s exciting to know we’ll be playing,” said Orono left wing Nash Allan-Rahill.
Archer and Hoogterp said the first priority is to begin the search for a head coach.
Greg Hirsch retired after 19 years behind the Orono bench and Ryan Bernard was a first-year coach at Old Town.
“I think it’s an attractive job but there are so few ice hockey coaches out there,” said Hoogterp.
Archer said they would like to name a coach in a reasonable amount of time so the coach can meet the players and see them play summer hockey.
Both school boards will have to approve the new coach.
Archer said the next order of business after naming a coach is to get the players involved in designing their uniforms.
“We want to empower them,” he said.
He also said the hockey committee will meet once a month “to make sure we’re operating on the same page.
“This is a relationship we’re both committed to. We want to make sure we’re on top of everything,” said Archer who is a member of the committee as is Hoogterp.