It’s been a long road, but the Athletic Council of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) granted formal approval of Section VI alpine skiing for middle and high schools in Western New York at their meeting on Sept. 19, 2012.
Section VI encompasses 95 schools and was one of only three sections out of 11 in the state that did not offer competitive ski racing as a sport.
Mark Ward, superintendent of Ellicottville Central School, said, “We’re excited about it. I’m just so happy I could (live to) see it happen, because of all places, (ECS) should be the school that starts it with our history of skiing here.”
Miguel Azcarate, owner of Mud Sweat n’ Gears and the training center director at Holiday Valley, has been advocating for Section VI skiing approval for quite a few years.
“I’m just really excited. It’s absolutely good for everybody,” he said.
Ward said, “We tried to do it 20 or 25 years ago and I guess the stars didn’t come together, but it did this time through a combination of the interest here locally, the folks in the ski racing community, and of course help from the state level and section support.”
The sport is in the early stages of organization for this winter season, said Ward, but “Ellicottville will have a team. I can go to the bank on that.” ECS’ goal is to field both a boys’ and girls’ team. There is also the possibility of merging schools to create teams, as ECS has done with other sports.
Timm Slade, executive director of Section VI, indicated that one of the first priorities is to identify and appoint a chairperson to head the sport. According to Slade, qualified individuals must be affiliated with a public school or retired from a public school.
“We still need a chairman and are working on that,” said Slade.
In addition to a Section VI chairperson, each interested school district will need a coach to head its team. ECS may be ahead of the curve as there is a person who has expressed interest in coaching the ski teams.
Now that alpine skiing approval has been granted, Slade said he is in the process of determining the level of interest among Section VI schools.
Competition will depend on how many other Section VI schools field teams, but Section VI teams would be competing against other teams from neighboring Section V, which encompasses the Genesee Valley area, said Ward. Six meets are required during the year and Ward hopes ECS will be able to host a meet locally.
“We have to work with Section V to schedule competitions and potentially invite them to Holiday Valley to host our own competition. It’s going to be an exciting year,” said Ward. “It’s going to be one of those years that everything we do is going to be the first time we’ve done it. I would anticipate it’s going to be a learning year.”
Currently, there are 95 Section VI member schools. According to Azcarate’s estimate, about 100-plus students race informally with area leagues, including three or four competitions per year.
Ward said, “The kids are involved in (skiing) already. They have their equipment. It’s a matter of fitting the state competition and the requirements into the program that currently has been flourishing in our community for many years.”
Azcarate mirrored this statement and said, “There are plenty of kids that are coming already with high schools to Holiday Valley, Kissing Bridge, Peek’n Peak, and (the students) can do it now not only as a club, but they can do it as a school to compete.”
From a personal and professional perspective, Azcarate said he is offering any services and tools available to him to help the sport get off the ground.
“I will help implement anything they need, whether it’s coaches, venues for the competitions, timing systems, whatever they need I will help,” he said. “I think in three or four years, or in five years, I would be more than happy if we can be half the size of Section V.”
Ward reflected, “What better place than Ellicottville to start this? What better ski resort than Holiday Valley, which is the marquis ski resort in Western New York and certainly one of the top 10 in the East? So, it’s nice we can partner with them, because I know they will help us make this a go. I think we have the perfect formula for success.”