PITTSFIELD, Mass. — High school sports is a major time commitment for a teenager.
It is even greater when you have to commute.
But Pittsfield High freshman Kellie Harrington is looking forward to next winter having the chance to do just that, as a member of a newly formed cooperative girls hockey team at Springfield's Pope Francis Preparatory School.
"There will be logistics we have to work out," Harrington said last week. "Hopefully, another girl [from PHS] will play, and we can carpool.
"As a family, me and my brother both play hockey. He plays club hockey out of Springfield. It is a lot. It's really stressful. You get to a point where practice is 8 p.m., and you don't get home until 11, and there's still homework."
Fortunately, Harrington is really good at time management.
This past fall, she played club hockey in Connecticut and ran cross country for the Pittsfield Generals, helping the latter place third in Western Mass and advance to the Division 1 state meet, where Harrington placed 18th overall and second among ninth-graders.
Of course, the Rifles practiced twice a week with an optional session on a third day and played two games a week on the weekends. The schedule for the Pope Francis co-op team promises to be a little more demanding.
And that gave school officials pause when they were approached about what would become the only co-op uniting schools from the Pioneer Valley and Berkshire County.
"They're talking about practicing at the rink in Holyoke, which gives easy access from I-91 and the Pike," Pittsfield Athletic Director Jim Abel said. "They're going to have kids coming from as far north as Greenfield and as far west as Pittsfield.
"Obviously, practices would have to take place at a time that's accessible to the kids. That's something we explained to families: We'll support it, but it can't affect academics, and we can't be making a ton of special arrangements for the sport."
Pope Francis is looking to form just the second co-operative girls hockey team in Western Mass. The other is hosted by Longmeadow, which last winter went 8-7-4 with a 2-1 loss in the preliminary round of the state Division 1 tournament and in 2018-19 went 13-3, advancing all the way to the state semi-finals before losing to eventual state champ Methuen/Tewksbury.
Pope Francis' co-op already has been approved by the Pioneer Valley Interscholastic Athletic Conference, Abel said. Given the lack of existing girls hockey opportunities in the region, approval from the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, which signs off on all cooperative teams, seems likely.
Harrington said of the girls likely to end up on the Pope Francis team, she has played club hockey with probably 70 percent of them.
"A girl on my [club] team, her sister goes to Pope Francis," Harrington said. "Her mom contacted my mom when they were putting the co-op team together. My mom talked to Jim Abel and did all that kind of stuff."
"When the idea came up, obviously, it was unusual," Abel said. "But for the sake of providing an opportunity for students, it certainly wasn't out of the question.
"It looks like there are going to be a half dozen players from Pope Francis and anywhere from zero to three girls from six to eight other schools."
Of course, even without a girls hockey program closer than Longmeadow, high school hockey has long been an option for girls in Berkshire County. Of the county's three current cooperative teams, each had at least one girl in uniform last winter, and Abel said that joining the Pope Francis co-op does not change the fact that girls at PHS will have the option of joining the team currently hosted by Wahconah.
That said, there is a difference between girls hockey and boys hockey.
"I'm not interested in checking," Harrington said. "Bantams, two years ago, when checking would start, I moved to a girls team so I could play at a higher level and not worry about boys and checking."
And as she aged out of the club team she played on last year, Harrington's opportunities for playing hockey would have been limited if the Pope Francis team had not come along.
"This year, I'm moving up to U16," she said, referring to the under-16 age group. "Last year, I was on U14, and U14s go all year round. U16, it's only half a season, so the [Springfield Rifles club team] will only probably play 10 or 12 games, and then high school starts. It's a short fall season. U16s don't do a full-year season because a lot of those girls play high school hockey.
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