- Scott Barboza, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Millis/Hopedale football co-op program is no more and that has cast uncertainty on the upcoming season for some of its players.
In March, a meeting of Tri-Valley League athletic directors voted to disband the co-op team, which has been in place since 2009. On last year’s Mohawks squad, nine players from Hopedale were represented, but now – without being grandfathered into the program for next season – those returning players could be in dire straights.
Without the additional bodies from Hopedale, Millis figures to have 34 players on its varsity roster for the upcoming season – nine more than the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) imposed minimum of 25 players – and first-year head coach Dana Olson told ESPN Boston that he doubts his program will field a junior varsity team. Only one player from Hopedale started for the Mohawks last season.
The move to disband is not the first time the arrangement came under scrutiny. In 2012, the MIAA board on co-op programs granted it an extension. In the co-op system, the host school (Millis) enters the agreement until it is deemed that the said host school can accommodate enough players to field a team on its own.
However, the timing of the decision has left administrators, coaching staff and players scrambling. After the March vote to disband, the athletic directors of Millis and Hopedale wrote appeal letters those TVL athletic directors who voted in opposition to the extension of the co-op, pleading to allow the program one more season to allow holdover players a chance to finish their high school careers, while allowing Hopedale to make according plans for its players past 2014. That measure was also denied in an April vote of TVL athletic directors.
As a result, Hopedale has attempted to find another co-op partner for its players, which as first reported by The Milford Daily News has targeted nearby Blackstone-Millville Regional.
But both parties have held out hope for reconciliation, taking their case before the MIAA in a Monday meeting with the schools’ athletic directors.
“It creates depth, especially, safety-wise,” Olson said of the co-op. “If you’re starting with about 30 kids to start the season and you come across injuries, or concussions, then you’re left with 20 kids and might be forced into the situation of putting freshman or JV-level players into a situation where they might have to play, even if they’re not ready to play at the varsity level. That can be a safety concern, too.”
Olson, who has yet to coach a game since taking over the head coaching position from Dale Olmsted, believes the Mohawks’ recent success, which has included winning seasons and playoff appearances in each of the last three years and producing a Division 1 scholarship player in Boston College’s Jon Baker, made the program an easy target for detractors.
“We worked very hard from taking this program to the brink of folding to becoming a successful program,” said Olson, who is in his fifth year with the program overall. “We don’t want to go back to where we came from. We were a blueprint for what a co-op program should be. It created a sense of community and the kids worked so well together.”