NORTH SMITHFIELD/BURRILLVILLE/GLOCESTER – Last year, a parent of one North Smithfield hockey player started a petition, which garnered more than 2,000 signatures, asking the Rhode Island Interscholastic League to change the rules limiting co-op teams to three sending schools and ultimately, to allow female athletes in town to play the sport they love.
It seems RIIL officials listened.
North Smithfield has joined the Burrillville/Ponaganset/Bayview girls co-op for the 2023/2024 season under head coach Cortney Lacey. Lacey said she knows of at least two athletes from North Smithfield who plan to join the newly united team when sign-ups are held after the start of the school year.
“I do know they have more girls in the middle school that will be coming up over the next few years,” Lacey told NRI NOW this week.
For the young athletes, the change marks an early, off-rink victory. Previous to the rule change earlier this year, co-op teams, the option typically used to accommodate athletes when a single district does not have enough players, were limited to three member schools.
Last season, although neighboring co-ops both in Burrillville and Mount Saint Charles indicated they had space to accommodate the North Smithfield players, the girls were told their only option was to join the Northmen boys’ hockey team.
North Smithfield High School once had its own girls hockey program, and even won a state championship. As participation declined, the team formed a co-op with Smithfield, but that was eventually phased out, and the program disbanded.
Now, a new Burrillville Ponaganset Bayview North Smithfield – or BPBNS – will get ready to take the ice.
“This allows the girls to have the opportunity to represent their school playing the sport they love in the upcoming season,” noted parent William Shurick, who started the petition to change the rule last year.
The program captured its first state title in 2022 and made it to the semi-finals in March before ultimately falling to the Smithfield/Coventry/Moses Brown co-op.
Goalie Kirstyn Smith noted that despite relinquishing the title last year, it was fun season.
“It was sad to have the seniors go that way, but it was a lot of fun while it lasted,” Smith said.
Smith, who starts her senior year at Burrillville High School this fall, said all of the former BPB girls are excited for the chance to welcome more players.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to grow the program of BPB and it’s great to get more girls involved in the sport of hockey,” Smith said.
The goalkeeper noted that there are limited opportunities for female players, and that from the team perspective, it’s always better to have the assurance that you’ll have enough players.
A goalie since age 11, she notes she’s been playing hockey as long as she can remember.
“Coming from a hockey family you start as soon as you can,” Smith said. “I started at 3 years old.”
With the season set to start the Monday after Thanksgiving, supporters have organized a golf tournament, to be held Monday, October 16, to raise funds for the team’s equipment and other needs. The BPBNS girls hockey fundraiser will be held at Crystal Lake Golf Club with a shot gun start at 8 a.m. Registration is now open for both tee sponsors at a cost of $115 and golfers. The team is also seeking a corporate sponsor at a cost of $3,500. Questions regarding the event or sponsorships can be directed to email@example.com.
“We want them to have all of the opportunities, equipment, and support they need to have an incredible season,” Shurick said.
Asked about her hopes for the upcoming season, Smith said, “for every girl to try their hardest – and maybe to snatch a title again.”
“Taking it one game at a time is definitely a priority,” Smith said.