At its meeting March 25, the Lakeland Union High School Board of Education unanimously passed a motion to approve a proposed merger of the Rhinelander/Antigo and Lakeland/Tomahawk girls hockey co-ops. The merger for the 2019-2020 season was approved by the School District of Rhinelander board last week.

The merger would create a co-op between Rhinelander, Lakeland, Antigo, Mercer, Three Lakes, Tomahawk and Wabeno, with Rhinelander being the host school. The decision to create a co-op was pursued largely to due to player retention and recruitment. 

“In looking at the projected costs, I met with Rhinelander’s activities director Brian Paulson,” Lakeland activities director Phil Updike said. “We looked at the figures as to how this would translate into the next season.”

Updike presented the board with a financial proposal which broke down the overall projected cost of the merger into categories such as ice time and transportation costs.

Overall, the total projected cost of the cooperative would be $18,250. According to Updike, this was an all-inclusive cost and accounted for the schools in the merger which didn’t currently have a player, but may down the line.

“The numbers we gave are exactly what the numbers are,” Updike said.

These projected costs included overnight games and tournaments which would be divided into the schools involved with the co-op.

Updike compared the cost of the cooperative to the total cost of the 2018-2019 season at $16,750, saying with supplies, equipment, and entry fee costs, the figure was actually $18,965.

With Rhinelander being the host school, ice time would be divided between the Lakeland Ice Arena and the Rhinelander Ice Arena.

Updike said practices would be after school, and Monday practices would be held at the Lakeland Ice Arena.

“How it works right now with us and Antigo is the boys practice first,” Rhinelander activities director Brian Paulson said. Because it takes a while for the teams to travel, Paulson said by the time the team travels, gets gear on, and stretches out, it’d be right after the boys’ practice.

“In Rhinelander, it’ll be about 5:20 p.m.” Paulson said.

Updike confirmed the same had been done at Lakeland.

‘I would like to apologize on behalf of myself and the team’

“I don’t have a problem with the co-op,” board member Barb Peck said. “But I do have a question, and that is how the behavior of the past season was dealt with. I really feel that perhaps an apology is owed by the team and then I would feel comfortable — if I was assured that was coming — then I would feel comfortable voting for this.”

Updike said he thought there was definitely some remorse from the team, and while he felt the third penalty wasn’t necessarily a “flagrant situation” the way it occurred, it wasn’t for him to judge.

“So, no apology will be coming forth?” Peck asked.

“I was one of the game misconducts, I’m the captain of the girls’ hockey team,” Asucena Boyer said. “I do feel very, very bad for what I did. It’s not characteristic of Lakeland girls hockey and it’s not characteristic of me.”

Boyer said she knew the team and herself had demonstrated a lot of remorse and they had spoken with Updike about the situation.

“I would like to apologize on behalf of myself and the team,” Boyer said.

Head coach Steve Bucklew said the fault was more his own than anybody else’s as the coach.

“This was not the case of a five-time drunk driver with eight speeding tickets going through a red light and killing someone. This was the guy who has a good driving record, no speeding tickets, who slipped through the intersection and killed himself,” Bucklew said. “They’re great kids. They really are, and I apologize on their behalf.”

Potential for reunification

With the conversation regarding the girls hockey team swaying toward a co-op, the question of what the future holds for Lakeland hockey rises.

“What’s the plan to re-assess?” board member Emily Hallstrom asked. “Obviously, the hope is that the girls’ hockey program would grow in numbers, and at some point, we could have our own team again.”

“I think that’s everybody’s hope,” Updike said. “But I don’t think, just looking at the figures that Mr. Paulson and I have reviewed, that’s going to happen any time soon.”

Updike said that’s why they wanted to pursue options which would provide some longevity and consistency for the program.

As far as the plan to re-assess, Updike said the could re-assess every year.

“As much as we’d like to hopefully stick together as a group, if we all have bigger numbers, absolutely we want to retain our school flag, so to speak,” Updike said.

“The girls themselves, is there a place for them, or are they going to be carting their gear back and forth?” board member Pam Carroll asked.

Updike said the bus would pick them up from the rink, just as if they’d been going to a game and they’d still be able to use their locker room.

“Just one thing to add about that locker room space,” Paulson said. “We have 28 lockers and right now we’re using 12. We added on to our facility, we have a shooting area now in the boys and girls locker rooms that’s the same size. So we can definitely accommodate.”

“How that’d work out is the days we’d be in Rhinelander, our kids would probably leave their gear there,” Updike said. 

Lakeland had previously considered co-oping with Northland Pines, but ultimately did not pursue it.

Kayla Houp may be reached via email at