Low participation challenges hockey and wrestling programs

—By Brandon Daley—

This season, North’s hockey and wrestling teams have struggled with small rosters.  Both teams play physical, fast-paced sports, but with low student involvement, a lack of interest reflects a broader national trend: According to the Harris Poll, an annual ESPN survey given to American adults asking about their sporting preferences, only a paltry five percent cited hockey as their favorite sport, and less than one percent of respondents cited wrestling.

Hockey requires equipment.  Even used gear costs between $200 and $300 a person.  Other sports, such as track and basketball, cost between $80 and $120, depending on shoe cost.  Hockey also calls for a prodigious amount of commitment, sacrifice, and a starting point for skill, since it is played on ice.
The games themselves are physical, tiring, and—this year, partly because of the small roster size—lopsided.  The North hockey team has lost 7-2 to South, 6-2 to Monroe, and 12-2 to Princeton.  In these games combined, the team was outscored 15-1 in the second period.  “Our team tends to fatigue quicker,” hockey coach Andrew Ferencevych said.  “Additional players would keep us better rested and allow us to compete for the full 45 minutes.”

The wrestling team’s problems are slightly different but equally severe.  The wrestlers have a gym to themselves and don’t have to purchase expensive gear.  So why the low turnout?  “High risk of injury,” senior wrestler Romell Khan said.  “It’s physical, and some people don’t want to deal with it.”  Because of its small roster, the team faces an uphill battle at every meet.  Each wrestling team has 14 weight classes with one wrestler in each class.  Since North has only 12 wrestlers total, the team is docked 12 points at the start of every meet.  This explains lopsided losses to Hopewell (26-54), Sterling (18-60), and Ewing (20-57).  The team’s three wins were all close calls, including 39-36 victories against both Maple Shade and Lawrence.

However, for both sports, there is real hope of stimulating involvement.  Ferencevych visits CMS to speak to potential players and hopes eventually to start a middle school team, emulating districts in Somerset and Morris County that have had middle school hockey programs for years.  Other ideas have also taken hold.  “Some players and myself were thinking of having an open skate for anyone who wants to come and get a feel for hockey,” sophomore Adam Lohr-Pearson said.  “We need all the players we can get.”

The wrestling team also remains optimistic.  “Our team has the biggest roster since 2008,” junior wrestler Chris St. Amour.  “We’re trending in the right direction. Hopefully within the next few years, our roster will be full.”  Still, a small team comes with distinct advantages.  “Our team is cohesive,” Ferencevych said.  “The benefits are that players get to see more ice time than they would on other teams.”

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