PORTLAND – Three Portland-area high school hockey players are asking a judge to permit them to play on a Deering-Portland High boys’ co-op team this season.

The Maine Principals’ Association in September denied a request for Deering to join Portland for a co-op boys’ team, but allowed the schools to merge for a girls’ team.

Deering High suspended its boys’ and girls’ hockey programs after last season because of a lack of players.

Two of the boys in the suit are Deering students. The third is a Cape Elizabeth student who attends Casco Bay High and committed to playing sports at Deering.

Friday’s filing in Cumberland County Superior Court contends that the MPA’s decision discriminated against the boys.

“If the MPA had denied the request of waivers for both, this wouldn’t be happening,” said Paul Greene, a lawyer with the Portland firm of Preti Flaherty. He is representing Alexander Jack Asbury of Portland, Jackson Stevens of Cape Elizabeth and Mary Verville of Portland as the parent of a third player, a minor.

The MPA rules in question concern maximum enrollment and recent sponsorship. The maximum enrollment rule, as stated in an MPA news release Friday, “prohibits cooperative teams where the combined enrollment of the two schools exceeds the enrollment of the largest school in the state.”

The recent sponsorship rules do not permit cooperative teams if both schools have offered the sport in each of the past two years. “The cooperative team concept was not intended to salvage established teams that have declined in popularity due to decreased student interest or internal programmatic issues,” said the MPA executive director, Dick Durost. “It was also not intended to allow schools to create more highly competitive teams by pooling athletic talent.”

Durost pointed out that the MPA has sanctioned hockey for boys’ teams since 1927 and that boys outnumber girls by a 3-to-1 ratio.

Permitting the girls to join a cooperative team was done, he said in the news release, to help a new sport grow.

Portland and Deering added boys’ hockey teams more than 50 years after 1927.

Greene, speaking Friday night, more tightly defined the issue in the eyes of the three boys, saying it was sex discrimination.

Deering and Portland high schools are listed in the lawsuit as Parties-in-Interest. Deering Athletic Director Melanie Craig said Friday after the school day that she had no knowledge of the lawsuit and deferred questions until she learned more.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]

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