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Athletes Finding Opportunities Through Co-ops
Area schools are increasingly setting aside rivalries and teaming up to give athletes a chance to play sports that were once reserved for public schools with large enrollments or pricey private schools.
"To me, providing that opportunity is extremely important," said Milford High Athletic Director Peter Boucher, whose school is a guest in an ice hockey co-op with Hopedale and may join a girls' hockey co-op next winter. 
"We have some kids in our program who could go on to play college hockey," he said. "But the important thing is not leaving anybody out. We want the option because it opens doors for kids and we want them to be able to play a sport and come to Milford High."
Boucher said area numbers in ice hockey have dwindled in recent years and the Hockomock League — which Milford calls home — has been forced to relax its longstanding resistance to schools joining forces.
"Nationally, across the board, football is getting hit by co-ops," Boucher said. "Just about every league is seeing attendance and participation down in athletics and you're seeing leagues like the Hockomock open that door that was slammed shut just a couple of years ago."
Nipmuc Regional High School is part of four co-ops. The Warriors are the host school for boys' volleyball and alpine skiing and guests in swimming and ice hockey. Like Milford's alliance with Hopedale, Nipmuc joined up with a rival when it welcomed Blackstone Valley Tech to the boys volleyball team. Athletic Director Chris Schmidt said numbers are up for the school, but co-ops have allowed the program to offer a wider variety of sports to athletes. 
Partnerships need to be approved at the league, district, and state level, but the support can evaporate quickly if a co-op becomes too strong, Schmidt said.
"There biggest concern for many is the competitive balance situation," he said, noting the Millis-Hopedale football co-op that won three straight league titles and made the postseason every year from 2011-2016 before being dissolved last offseason, forcing Hopedale to join with Blackstone-Millville. "Really it comes down to when schools are able to maintain a program on their own."
While programs would prefer to have all student-athletes donning their home colors, co-ops have become a permanent part of the scholastic sports landscape.
"Ideally, we would love to be able to have our own teams," Schmidt said. "But the reality is, in some cases, co-ops give our athletes the chance to compete in the sport and it's important they have the opportunity to play."




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