AHSHA sees rapid rise in participation numbers
For high school students that want to play hockey, the Arizona High School Hockey Association (AHSHA) is the place to be.
And you don’t have to live in the metropolitan Phoenix area, either.
Made of up 32 teams, AHSHA welcomes players from as far as Yuma, Tucson, Prescott and Flagstaff. The Phoenix area is home to 29 teams and Flagstaff is home to three of them, but AHSHA president Jeff Farr said his organization welcomes anyone and everyone.
“We’ve been growing statewide,” Farr said. “We need to accommodate players across the state and that’s part of our charter. We’re an open association for high school-aged players who want to play hockey.”
The association is open to all levels, too. Formed in 1999, AHSHA is made up of four levels – Division I, Division II, Division III and junior varsity, which is for beginner players.
Most teams are made up of players who go to the same school, but if a school doesn’t have enough players, it’ll link up with another program that is in the same situation.
After holding preseason games in August and a tournament over Labor Day weekend, the high school fall season is in full swing.
The association has also seen a boom in participation numbers under Farr, who is in his second year at the helm.
In 2014, AHSHA had a 7.5 increase in registrations, but that was nothing compared to this offseason, when participation numbers swelled from 465 players to 528, a leap of nearly 15 percent.
“Our critical issue is managing how fast we grow,” Farr said. “We can’t grow at 15 percent a year and have enough ice capacity for all of the additional teams we could bring on board. We are frankly surprised about the growth this year.”
Farr said he and association officials have focused on making the high school league a better experience for all players, putting their energy into better coaching and an emphasis on players who are just learning the game.
The fall league also feels like the big time with an All-Star game and skills showcase in November, plus playoffs in January.
“If we do it right, then people have great experiences,” Farr said. “Then they tell others and before you know it, they register because they want the same experience.”
There is also a spring AHSHA season when Farr said the number of teams will jump from 14 to 16. That league is more informal and gives eighth-graders a chance to play for potential upcoming coaches.
The most serious aspect of AHSHA is its Premier Program, which focuses on advanced players. Farr said the association treats it like a college club program, giving them more practice and game opportunities, including tournaments, which are normally held around the holidays and don’t conflict with the normal high school schedule.
“We don’t want to compete with the travel programs,” Farr said. “The purpose of this program is supplemental. It’s a chance for kids that want to play at an advanced level.”
AHSHA also offers players the chance to try out for a pair of Team Arizona squads, which play a national showcase each year. The 18U team is primarily juniors and seniors and the 16U squad consists of freshmen and sophomores.
“It’s a unique advantage,” Farr said. “All of these programs are under the same umbrella.”
After years of uncertainty, AHSHA is headed in the right direction. That includes the recent unveiling of a new logo, a change from the recent “Thunder On Ice” moniker.
Farr said the logo, designed by Patrick Murphy of Basha-Perry, will help rebrand AHSHA. The logo, much like the association, is ready to shine.
“Our core business is growing high school hockey and developing players across the state,” Farr said. “I think we’ve found our niche.”
— Eric Smith