Girls hockey is back in Anchorage high schools, thanks in part to Scotty Gomez.
The sport, eliminated last spring by the Anchorage School District because of poor participation, will return this school year as an outsourced activity -- one that is not funded and operated by the Anchorage School District.
Taking over the program is the Scotty Gomez Hockey Association, which on Friday announced that it will fundraise, schedule ice time and provide other oversight for the sport.
The school district will provide limited assistance for the first year of a three-year contract between the ASD and the Gomez association, according to Derek Hagler of the school district.
After that, the sport must be self-sufficient.
"Girls hockey is back," said Carlos Gomez, the father of Anchorage-born NHL star Scott Gomez and the president of the Scotty Gomez Hockey Association. "Whether it survives is up to the girls and the community."
Girls hockey began in 2003 but has never attracted enough players for each school to field a team -- instead, each team draws players from two schools, giving Anchorage four teams. Fairbanks and the Mat-Su valley have each fielded one team in recent years, giving Alaska six teams.
Last season, 83 girls from the city's eight public schools played.
"We're definitely looking for participation from the girls. It's up to them, " Gomez said. "So girls, get off your butts -- let's go."
The Scotty Gomez Hockey Association will run the day-to-day operations of the program and will work with the Alaska State Hockey Association, the umbrella organization for many of the state's youth and adult hockey leagues.
The school district, for this school year only, will help pay for the cost of ice time and officials, Hagler said. It will also take on the task of checking player eligibility and baseline concussion testing.
Players will continue to pay a $195 participation fee. The rest of the program's costs will be covered by fundraising, said Darryl Thompson, president of the state hockey association. The Gomez association will run the program, but will not fund it, he said.
"It's up to us," Thompson said. "It's up to parents, kids and the community."
Once it was eliminated by the district, girls hockey's only hope of survival was outsourcing. The district said at the time the decision was a matter of supply-and-demand -- the participation numbers just weren't there after a decade-long run.
The cost was steep too. Thompson estimates it will take six figures -- at least $100,000 -- to fund a single season, a pricetag inflated by the price of renting ice.
Although outscourcing is often threatened when the district faces a budget crisis, this is the first time a high school sport has actually gone from being a district-support sport to one supported by an outside entity. Baseball, softball and bowling began as outsourced sports.
Those activities "have worked out really well because they had really strong people behind those sports," Hagler said. "I don't think in most cases the community wants to outsource, but in those cases we found the right folks with the right energy.
"If it hadn't been for Carlos Gomez and Darryl Thompson, I'm not sure it would've happened."
The return of girls hockey also has the blessing of the Alaska School Activities Association, which will continue to allow the consolidation of players from two schools onto one team.
A push to restore girls hockey began almost as soon as the district eliminated it in late April. Thompson said he got a call from the office of school district superintendent Ed Graff early in the summer to see if there was interst in outsourcing the sport.
Thompson said the hockey association and Gomez association wanted three things from the district -- school affiliations, varsity letters and limited financial support in the first year.
After three years, Thompson, Gomez and the district will review things and decide whether to extend the contract. They will look at measurable goals, Thompson said -- fundraising and participation.
Success won't necessarily mean a team at every school, he said.
"It's very unrealistic to set an expectation that Bartlett, for instance, will ever have a team of its own as a short-team goal," he said. "We don't want to oversell and under-deliver."
Gomez believes there is a need for girls hockey in Anchorage high schools. Only a handful of girls are good enough, or have the desire, to play on a boys team, which is permissible in Anchorage.
"If you don't have girls high school hockey, the girls at the house level have nowhere to play (at that age)," Gomez said. "Where are the girls gonna play?
Thompson, whose daughter Savanna is a West High freshman eager to play girls hockey, said he believes there is reason to believe more girls will play in the future.
"There's been a lot of email traffic, a lot of meetings," he said. "I was at the rink last night and it was energized. I think if you take something away from someone, they appreciate it more.
"...This is a hockey town. I think you'll see more participation at the lower level if you have a venue for them at the high school level."
Added Gomez: "It doesn't make sense not to have high school hockey."
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.