Members of the former Dells/Delton Blades, Reedsburg Polars and Baraboo T-Birds Youth Hockey organizations announced a huge switch this past week at one of the first board meetings of the new South Central Cyclones hockey club.
All three organizations have merged since the end of the 2016-17 season and the new 12-member board has spent much of the summer getting the new organization off the ground.
The move may come as a shock to some outside of the local hockey establishment, but it was voted on by members of all three organizations at their respective season-ending events in the spring.
While the merger was finally approved this spring, new club President Rick Capener admitted that the discussion to do so had been going on for a number of years.
“If you take the history, 10-years ago we talked about this,” Capener said, adding technically it was something discussed some two decades ago before each community built its own indoor facility.
At the group’s latest meeting, held at Brewster’s Lanes in Reedsburg on Aug. 2, former Polars president and new Cyclones secretary Billy Oakes said the merger makes the Cyclones the third largest organization in the Wisconsin Amateur Hockey Association (WAHA) and the second largest in WAHA’s Region 4.
The team will include competitive teams at the squirt, peewee and bantam levels, as well as the girls U-12 and U-14 teams.
The high school varsity and junior varsity teams will remain in their current configurations, with the respective Reedsburg/Wisconsin Dells and Baraboo/Portage co-ops on the boys side, and the Badger Lightning on the girls side.
Capener said the group started seriously discussing the merger at the beginning of last season and they spent much of the season convincing their own organizations that this was the right time to make this happen.
“There was some fear,” Oakes said. “People are concerned about work duties, they’re concerned about this and that, some of the clubs did have to do and some didn’t, so there’s things to weigh out.”
For the young players, being involved in tryouts could be an experience they are not used to and could possibly be a bit stressful, but ultimately, the board members agreed it was the right move to make.
All three leaders agreed dropping numbers in each organization has played a part, but the opportunity to put together a solid group at the top of each age group, as well as providing a chance for all players to play with and against players at their own skill level was a big factor as well.
“Fifteen years ago, we all had three teams at each level. We’re all pretty much down to one team at each level now,” said Capener, who admitted that the Dells/Reedsburg co-op was already in place for the past few years to ensure no age group had to be scrapped “due to low numbers.”
Oakes, who coached the RWD bantam team last season, said it was imperative for his group.
Former Blades President and Cyclones board member Ben Scott said Wisconsin Dells continues to have solid numbers at the grass roots level (Ice Mite, Mite) but is unable to hold on to those players.
“For us, we lose a lot of kids to basketball. It starts at the same time kids would be at the squirt level (and there is a drop off there),” he said.
Oakes added: “I think the perception is that hockey is expensive, there’s a lot of travel involved and that dissuades parents from going that route. It’s not really true. Not in our community. Team fees are reasonable.”
Capener said they believe they will be able to lower registration fees over the next few seasons by pooling resources together.
Financially, the benefits could be ordering fuel or propane for three ices re-surfacers instead of one, making larger orders for concession items and a host of other things where savings could be had in larger orders.
“Then, the experience, whether its coaches, board members, presidents, rink managers. We’re bringing all of that experience together to make everything stronger”, said Capener.
But for now, the group is spending much of the summer chipping away at a long list of items that normally wouldn’t seem to be a big deal.
The group is basically starting over, beginning with bylaws, picking logos, ordering all new jerseys, teaming up on registration details and everything else that their former organizations worked out long ago.
This group has been through all of this before, but they need to make sure they are working all together now.
“When things are up and running and normal, it’s easy. When you must create it, that’s when it (gets difficult),” Capener said. “You know registration for any one of us in our own organization, that’s a 10-minute discussion. Tonight, it was an hour-and-a-half because there are changes.”
Capener clearly feels that time is well worth it for the ultimate reason of the resource pooling, improving all kids at every skill level.
“Our top players are going to get better, our middle of the road players are going to get better and our beginner players are going to get better,” he said. “They’re not going to be out there practicing with a kid that’s been playing six years longer than them and feeling bad that they can’t keep up.”
All three organizations played at Level 3 in the WAHA region, meaning they competed against each other at regionals for spots at the state tournament each spring.
With the increase in registration, the organizations will now move up to Level 2 with the top representative teams playing at 2A, the second teams at 2B and so on.
So instead of competing throughout the season with Sauk Prairie and Monroe, the organizations chief rivals will now likely include: Janesville, Oregon and McFarland (based on the draws from last season’s Regional Draw Sheets).
The high school teams should benefit from top players playing at a higher level throughout their formative seasons as well, said the board members.
“That’s what we all talked about,” Capener said. “We’re playing Level 3A, both of us were. When they get to high school’… “Everybody plays everybody,” added Oakes. “All those one and two teams, we have to all play them in high school.”
For Oakes, who could be a bantam coach again this season, he will have all the local players together for one season before more graduate to either the RWD or Baraboo/Portage varsity squads.
He said the players are looking forward to teaming up for a short period.
“The kids are pretty excited,” he said. “I think they are looking forward to having a team that is stronger. I think the kids will welcome the challenge. They want to do well, they want to win.”
Registration for the Cyclones will begin on Aug. 24 at RACA in Reedsburg from 6-8 p.m. That will continue at Pierce Park in Baraboo on Aug. 26 from 9 a.m. to noon, with another first registration scheduled for Sept. 5 at Poppy Waterman Ice Arena in Lake Delton from 6-8 p.m.