There are choppy waters within the walls of Lakeland Union High School and it points to the situation with the girls’ hockey team. 

The girls’ hockey team at LUHS is potentially undergoing a major change that could alter the program’s history: the decision whether or not to merge with another co-op.

“Currently, we are operating under a cooperative agreement with Tomahawk and Mercer,” said LUHS athletic director Phil Updike. “At this time and in the foreseeable future, we will not be receiving any hockey players from either school.”

That has led LUHS adminstration to pursue a potential merger with the Rhinelander/Antigo co-op, also known as the Northern Edge.

This potential decision to co-op comes off the fact that the Thunderbirds don’t have many returning students from the team. Five seniors are graduating, leaving a roster of 11 next season.

A recent school board meeting brought up the topic of potentially going co-op, and it was met with mixed reactions.

Updike has been talking to different youth organizations around the city, seeing what options he might have for the future. 

“I want to get a handle on what those potential pieces would be as far as middle school and kids that are currently playing hockey and currently plan on moving towards playing hockey in the high school,” said Updike. 

Even with 16 students partaking in this past year’s hockey team, the Thunderbirds are still at a disadvantage when it came to playing bigger teams.

“In the first two periods, we stayed with a ton of teams this year,” said Updike. “But when we got to the third period, we were out of gas.”

The proposed plan by Updike at last week’s board meeting was to possibly form a four team cooperative between LUHS, Rhinelander, Antigo and Mercer. 

The Rhinelander/Antigo co-op played most of the year with 11 skaters this season, but saw that number whittled to nine by the end of the year due to attrition. The Edge will not lose any seniors to graduation, but is expected only to pick up a couple of incoming freshmen for next year.

It’s not the first time the team has considered the plan. Last year, Lakeland turned down an offer to join forces with the Edge. The Edge then tried to swing a co-op deal with Northland Pines, but RHS activities director Brian Paulson backed out of the deal at the 11th hour after the Rhinelander/Antigo co-op found a couple of more skaters in the weeks before the first practice of 2018-19. 

One of the problems that has been brought up is that of logistics. Commuting back and forth from these schools could be an issue that would arise. Updike shared his thoughts on that issue.

“My recommendation is going to be that Rhinelander be the hub for that because that makes the most sense for everyone involved,” Updike said. “That means Antigo kids aren’t driving up here and that means our kids aren’t driving to Antigo.”

The schools involved would still need to sign off on the plan, but there’s little time to act. A co-op application needs to be in to the WIAA by April 1 for the proposed merged team to be eligible for the playoffs in the 2019-20 season. The School District of Rhinelander’s Operations and Strategic Planning Committee was set to hear more about the proposal last night at its monthly meeting. With that committee’s OK, it would go to the full Rhinelander school board at its March 18 meeting. 

Information from River News sports editor Jeremy Mayo was used in this report.

Brett LaBore may be reached at brett@lakelandtimes.com or sports@lakelandtimes.com.