Miguel Azcarate, Holiday Valley training center director and owner of Mud, Sweat n’ Gears, and Karl Schwartz, ECS athletic director, have collaborated to bring Section VI competitive skiing to over 95 WNY schools. Photo by Jennie Acklin

By Eva Potter

The impending final approval of Section VI skiing for middle and high schools in Western New York has districts busily working in the background preparing for the upcoming ski season.

Miguel Azcarate, owner of Mud Sweat n’ Gears and training center director at Holiday Valley, has been quietly advocating approval of school ski teams in the region  over seven years. He said it’s been a slow process but that he is thrilled that approval is around the corner.

Section VI, encompassing 95 Western New York schools, is one of three sections out of 11 in New York State that does not offer competitive ski racing as a school sport, which includes slalom, giant slalom and/or Nordic contests. A former professional ski racer for Spain and experienced ski coach, Azcarate has long held the vision of bringing the sport to Ellicottville, as well as other area schools.

Ellicottville Central School Athletic Director Karl Schwartz said he remembers being approached by parents about a ski racing program about seven years ago when he first started working at ECS. Azcarate and Schwartz have been working together to develop not only ECS’s program, but have worked to foster the spirit of competition and sportsmanship across Section VI.

Schwartz said, “It’s natural for us. We’re the biggest ski town in Western New York.”

According to Timm Slade, executive director of Section VI, final approvals won’t be completed until mid-September because this development occurred mid-summer. He said a recommendation to add Section VI skiing is on the agenda for the upcoming Sectional/Intersectional Committee meeting on Sept. 6. This committee will then recommend approval to the Athletic Council, which is scheduled to meet Sept. 19.  Once the Athletic Council approves the recommendation, which Slade anticipates will happen, alpine skiing will be added as a school sport for the 2012-2013 season.

Slade said, “Many districts are really not even aware that we could offer skiing as a sport, but they will by Sept. 20. If it passes, I will send out a mass email to everyone.”

Approval will spark opportunities throughout WNY, including far-flung districts in Jamestown, Olean, Dunkirk, Lewiston Porter, Orchard Park, Akron, Westfield and many more.

Slade said he knows that ECS has been working on getting skiing approved for well over a year. He said even if ECS is the only school interested in participating the first year, “that’s OK because they can compete against Section V schools,” which are located within a reasonable travel distance.

Regarding financial aspects, Slade said, “There is a minor cost to Section VI, minor. The rest will be on the schools, but we haven’t worked that out yet, because we’re in the beginning stages.”

One of the first priorities is to identify and appoint a chairperson for Section VI skiing. Slade stated qualified individuals must be affiliated with a public school or retired from a public school.

In addition to a sectional chairperson, each interested school district will need coaches to head their teams. Again, Ellicottville is ahead of the curve with an experienced person interested in the position. The ECS Board of Education can appoint a coach pending sport approval.

As does Schwartz, Slade anticipates the program will see progressive grown in its first few years, including the possibility of schools combining to form teams as needed.

“We see that happening more and more. I anticipate in the sport of skiing that will happen,” said Slade.

Schwartz said he wouldn’t be surprised if students from surrounding districts could be accepted into Ellicottville’s program if their district doesn’t have enough interested students to field teams. Transfer rules, Section VI exception approvals and other factors will determine final eligibility. NYSPHSAA (New York State Public High School Athletic Association) guidelines will determine grade levels and eligibility standards.

Speculating, Schwartz said that more than likely the first year may follow an “independent schedule,” but when and where contests are scheduled will depend on how many schools wish to participate. Schwartz is guessing that this sport may be “classified as a team sport with a lot of individual emphasis,” possibly falling in the C or D school size category.

“This section is becoming more and more lenient with small schools and (sports) mergers, and they’re really relaxing some of the requirements,” said Schwartz. He said he has been working closely with ECS Superintendent Mark Ward, who has expressed enthusiasm and support for the new program.

There are 95 Section VI member schools, and according to Azcarate’s estimate, about 100-plus students, many who are already competing, will now have the opportunity to race under their home school’s banner.

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