Interest In Hockey Wanes, OH Unable To Field Team

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Andy Kropp was a 5-foot-9, 140-pound defensemen during his four years playing for Ottawa Hills' hockey team in the 1980s. He said five seniors, including himself, played on the varsity squad during the 1984-85 season.

"There was a jayvee team," Kropp recalled, "and we had at least 18 kids on varsity."

Kropp played on varsity as a freshman, when the Green Bears played in the City League against teams from Whitmer, Waite, and Woodward. Their home arena was the Ice House on Alexis Road.

"We got moved to Tam-O-Shanter with Northview, Southview, St. John's, Bowling Green and Findlay," Kropp said. "We played in that Northwest Ohio Conference my sophomore year. It was a much better (level of play). There was chicken wire at the Ice House and the parents would fight in the stands. It was rough. Northview was very strong. Bowling Green and St. John's were good, and we fared well."

For the past two seasons, Ottawa Hills has been unable to field a hockey team due to lack of interest. Athletic Director Tim Erickson said that even though high school hockey programs have dwindled in the area in the past several years, he doesn't rule out the Green Bears' program getting resurrected in the future.

"If we have kids and interest again, I can see it coming back," Erickson said. "It's a numbers game and we haven't had the numbers. We only had four kids wanting to play after the 2014-15 season. In my opinion, if you look at ice hockey in greater Toledo as whole, it's declining.

"How many teams have gone by the wayside? Central Catholic, Maumee ... Lake went from a varsity program to a club program a few years ago. They're drawing kids from other schools to keep going. I can remember a school like Anthony Wayne, which had a jayvee and varsity (program) and now they just have varsity."

Erickson said Ottawa Hills athletes began eschewing hockey six or seven years ago.

"You saw the interest slowing, waning," Erickson said. "We always had a strong group of kids wishing to play. A number of our kids never picked up a hockey stick until their freshman year, and by their junior year they were OK players. We didn't have that happening over the past few years."

Central Catholic, which is no stranger to success in the athletic arena, won the Northwest Hockey Conference White Division title in the 2010-11 season - and the Irish haven't had a hockey program since then. Associate athletic director Mike Padgett said the program folded following that season.

"We had a really good team," Padgett said. "It was a senior-dominated team, leaving only a few underclassmen on the team. The next year there weren't enough players to field a team and they had no choice (but to shut down)."

Kropp still plays hockey in the Sylvania Area Senior Hockey League at Tam-O-Shanter every Sunday, from September through April. He said he's not surprised that schools like Ottawa Hills have had to suspend their hockey programs due to a lack of numbers.

"There's a certain stigma that goes with hockey, which is not true," Kropp said. "It's not expensive relative to other sports. All of the sports are expensive. I have spent thousands of dollars - I have two girls who are in competitive dance - and the money we spent on that compared to what we spent on travel hockey for my son doesn't even compare.

"Look at lacrosse and baseball, with (having to buy) sticks and baseball hats and helmets and things that go along with kids' sports these days. Hockey's not that expensive of a sport. Lacrosse has hit baseball and football (participation) as well. It's a good crossover sport for hockey and it's taken kids away. If you haven't mastered skating, the game of hockey is also tougher to pick up."

Andy Boesel, another 1985 Ottawa Hills grad, played basketball for the Green Bears but never played hockey. His son, Andrew, did. Andrew was a 6-foot-2, 200-pound right wing who chose to play hockey his senior year, in 2014-15, because several of his football teammates wanted to give it a go.

"They all got together to go out and play one last time because the team would have folded," Andy said. "They weren't very good, but they had the time of their lives. Andrew said it was the most fun he ever had in a sport."

Andy said playing hockey as a senior literally changed Andrew's day-to-day life.

"My son doesn't get up for anything," Andy said. "He sleeps 'til noon, but he was out the door for those 5:30 a.m. practices. He absolutely loved it. He got a late start on the whole thing. I have two boys and two girls and I would have had all of them skate. The (Green Bears) were tight-knit kids and it was a fun environment."

Boesel is now officially a hockey dad. His younger son, Joe, is a sophomore forward on Lake's club team. Two other Ottawa Hills students, senior defenseman Trent Davis and senior forward Christian Wallin, also play at Lake.

"None of my kids ever skated," Andy said. "Andrew played lacrosse and football. Back then I said, 'I have no intention of buying you (hockey) pads to play for three months.' I bought him a stick and he bought all the pads and went on to play. I worked with Joe and he made a travel team his second year. He's a very young sophomore at Ottawa Hills and he just loves the sport."

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