By ALEX SPONSELLER After years of being rivals, the Pilgrim and Toll Gate boys hockey teams will join forces and create the district's third sports co-op for this upcoming winter season. The boys hockey co-op will join the already-established girls
After years of being rivals, the Pilgrim and Toll Gate boys hockey teams will join forces and create the district’s third sports co-op for this upcoming winter season.
The boys hockey co-op will join the already-established girls hockey and gymnastics co-op teams.
Numbers were the ultimate factor in the decision, as each school’s participation in hockey has been in a steady decline for over a decade. In a survey sent out to Pilgrim families in the fall gauging interest in the sport, the school estimated it would only be able to dress roughly 11 players for this upcoming season.
“The biggest factor was numbers. Pilgrim numbers were very low, and we wanted to ensure that hockey players on each side of the city had a chance to play hockey. We have seen a trend in declining enrollment since about 2005 in public high school students. Also, in the sport of hockey, to be really good and develop you have to play juniors. We have a lot of kids that go to private schools, we have the pathways program to compete with. It made sense in so many ways,” said Warwick athletic director Ken Rix.
Now, with the two teams merged, not only will the team be able to comfortably field a varsity program, but it will also be able to introduce a junior varsity team which neither had last winter.
Rix and the school committee are excited to add the JV team from both a development and safety standpoint.
“Pilgrim was going to have very low numbers, and our concern was that there would be freshmen that are just starting to really learn how to play that would be thrust right into a varsity hockey game. That is very concerning for us,” Rix said. “By combining the two schools, we now have a stable hockey program. Kids from both sides can compete, we will have enough players to form a junior varsity program, we have a feeder system. Most importantly, the kids will be safe as well.”
The team will be headed by Peter Stringfellow and Mike Boyajian Sr., who last year coached Toll Gate and Pilgrim, respectively.
Although it has taken some getting used to, Stringfellow feels that locals have already begun to warm up to the new atmosphere.
“It got mixed reviews at first. Some players and parents were excited to get both programs on the same page, others obviously had their concerns about bringing everything together. But now seeing everything that’s going on, seeing that me and Mike Boyajian are on the same page, it’s going well. Competition breeds success, so the more competition we have the better. I think people are starting to realize that this was probably the best thing for the city,” said Stringfellow.
Stringfellow also shares Rix’s excitement for the new JV team.
“So far so good, we’ve had a lot better competition this year than last year, our JV team is getting going, it’s going well. It’s nice to have a full program with a JV program where freshmen can really develop and have some games. It’s nice to allow them to develop and get their feet wet. Varsity is looking good, a lot of these kids already knew each other playing Warwick junior hockey, it’s been good,” Stringfellow said.
The league has yet to be approved for competition by the governor and department of health, however, its tentative schedule is slated to begin next week when Warwick will take on West Warwick.
Stringfellow believes that the team is poised for success in its first year together, especially if it can remain healthy through the shortened season.
“The biggest key for us, first, will be to get our legs underneath us. It’s a four or five week schedule so usually at this point we would be in excellent condition, so now we just have to make sure the kids stay healthy, especially with COVID, we just need them to stay safe from that. If we can stay healthy I think that we will have a very successful year,” said Stringfellow.
Rix is also confident that the program will be successful, and sustainable, moving forward.
“We put together a large committee of 10 people from the school committee and the coaching staffs. We wanted to do this together,” said Rix. “So far it has been great, the coaches and players have done a good job, the kids are very comfortable. The two coaches have the same goals. We’re excited.”