Garrett Kirlin (center) of John Bapst tries to split Noah Reynolds (left) and Abe Lorom of Houlton-Hodgdon-Southern Aroostook-Katahdin during a January 2018 hockey game in Houlton. Hampden Academy has voted against entering into a co-op arrangement with John Bapst, which seeks a partner because of reduced roster numbers. Credit: Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times

John Bapst Memorial High School’s search for a potential partner for a cooperative ice hockey team continues.

The Bangor school had approached Hampden Academy about teaming up for hockey, but Hampden Academy’s athletic committee recently decided against the merger.

It cited a number of reasons for the decision, including the probability that the team composed of players from two Class B schools would have to move up to Class A, resulting in a significant increase in travel costs.

“I feel bad about not being able to help John Bapst but, in the end, you have to look out for your own students first,” said Heath Miller, chairman of Hampden Academy’s athletic committee.

Hampden Academy athletic director Fred Lower and John Bapst AD Dan O’Connell discussed the idea after O’Connell expressed concern about his program’s dwindling numbers.

Lower said when he first took the idea to the athletic committee, they asked for more details about how the arrangement would work.

Lower said when he computed the enrollment formula for co-operative teams used by the Maine Principals’ Association to determine class affiliation, “we clearly would have been a Class A program as far as hockey goes.”

Class A is more competitive and there also would have been a considerable increase in travel expenses.

Even though Hampden Academy and John Bapst each went to Presque Isle and Houlton this past season — approximately 330 and 250 miles round trip, respectively — those were the only two trips in excess of 60 miles.

Bangor High, the only team in Class A north of Augusta, made round five trips in excess of 200 miles and six longer than 150 miles last winter.

“Our kids would have been coming home late at night and then having to go to school the next morning,” Miller said.

Miller also noted that the parents of the Bronco players were overwhelmingly against the idea of a merger, but said that dynamic did not enter into the committee’s decision.

John Bapst had 16 players last season and posted a 3-13-2 record that included eight losses by one goal. The Crusaders lost five players to graduation.

John Bapst, which has sponsored a program since 1990, likely now would have to look at forming a co-operative with Bangor or Class B Brewer, although a merger with Brewer could also elevate the program into Class A.

“I’ve known (O’Connell) for a long time,” Lower said. “I want to help him out but it wouldn’t benefit Hampden Academy.”

O’Connell, who could not be reached for comment, previously had addressed John Bapst’s decision to explore finding a co-op partner for hockey.

“Our goal is to always have our own program but we’ll do what needs to be done to give our students the opportunity to play hockey,” he told the BDN.

“It’s really just a matter of numbers and our ability to keep our kids safe on the ice. That’s the case with any collision sport,” he added.

Meanwhile, Hampden Academy’s program appears to be in the midst of a steady increase in numbers. The Broncos had eight freshmen and six sophomores among 19 players last season, when they went 13-7 and were seeded No. 4 in Class B North.

“In a few years, we could have over 40 kids in the program,” Lower said.

“It would be awesome to have a full JV team to go with a full varsity team,” Miller said. “All the young kids would get a lot of playing time.”

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