By Tim Leeds
The Havre Public Schools Board of Trustees denied the request from the Havre Youth Hockey Association to allow the group to have officially excused absences for their hockey games and to qualify for Havre High Athletic letters.
"I don't think any of us here is willing to partially sanction an activity," Trustee Brian Morse said. "Either not sanction it, or sanction it and control it."
"I am saddened that the decision making has to be based on not setting a precedent," Trustee Teresa Miller said. "I would like to be able to base my decision on each individual case, but that isn't the reality. We always have to look at the bigger picture."
The association had presented their request at the March 13 meeting of the board. The hockey program is not sanctioned by MHSA (the Montana High School Association) and is not an official Havre High School activity.
Board Chairman Jim Heberly said he was not sure the association would be willing to accept all of the policies and regulations that would be required of it if the request was accepted.
"You're giving up a lot of freedom to get a letter ," he said. "If you guys are going to the state tournament and your star goalie gets an F the week before, are you going to pull him?"
Superintendent Kirk Miller listed that issue as one of the reasons he recommended not approving the request. He said attendance, grade eligibility and scheduling requirements might be more than the association is willing to accept.
Levi Briese, one of the players in the hockey program, said they would be willing to split the issue up. If the board would not approve both parts of the request, they could approve one or the other request, he said.
Tom Patrick, a member of the association, said they are not looking for the Havre schools to take over the hockey program, just give some recognition and excused absences.
Pat Patterson, president of the association, said they are willing to work with the school district on any issues the board has difficulty with. He said this is an opportunity to increase activities at no cost to the district, since the families involved in the program pay all of the costs already. He said it is also a way to strengthen a program that can help troubled kids improve and stay out of trouble.
Superintendent Miller told the board that they had researched the issue over the past month, and had not found any MHSA school that provides letters for activities outside of the school program, although attendance programs vary from school to school. He said setting such a precedent could start a long line of requests from other activities, and that reviewing those requests might not be in the best interests of the school or the activities and their members in some cases.
Granting the request could link the school to the activity enough that the school could be named in any lawsuits filed in the case of a catastrophic event, Miller said, and the district's insurance would not cover such a suit because hockey is not an official Havre High event.
Briese said a problem arises because the absences hockey players get from attending games and tournaments could mean the difference between getting a job or scholarship. Absences approved for school activities don't appear on a transcript, but hockey absences do, he said.
Havre High Principal Jim Donovan told the board that students can have up to 10 excused absences per semester. He said he works with students who have special activities they need absences for.
"I've never dinged a hockey player who worked with me on attendance and I never will," he said. " These kids have worked with me and I'll continue to work with them."
Superintendent Miller said that as far as he knows, no students have lost credit or have been denied opportunities because of hockey. He said if a student is concerned, the principal or activity director could write a letter explaining the absences that the student could use in an application or interview.