Ice hockey team players at New Milford High School may get back a chunk of the $900 they paid to play the sport last winter.

The Board of Education Operations Committee agreed last week to recommend refunding the families of the 21 players about $332 each.

Their reasoning was based on the reduction of program costs due to cancelled practices and cost for rink time was less than projected. In the 2010-11 budget, school officials required all high school athletes to pay a one-time, $150 participation fee. Yet due to the additional costs inherent in ice hockey, that fee was $900.

For 2011-12, all the fees are expected to be reduced by half.

Gregg Miller, the school district fiscal services director, told the committee he recommended the ice hockey refund after learning the program cost $6,762 less than projections, based on the prior year.

Pay-to-play has proved a controversial policy in many districts but tight education budgets in New Milford prompted the fees to help cover athletic department costs during the 2010-11 school year.

Pay-to-play contributed $117,000 to the New Milford High sports program this past school year.

Superintendent of Schools JeanAnn Paddyfote recommended reducing the pay-to-participate fees and, since the Board of Education's 2011-12 budget required no elimination of staff or programs, the board agreed.

An analysis of how pay-to-play affected the high school sports program showed there were 988 athletes this year, about 100 fewer than the prior year, Mr. Miller said.

He also said he expects the number could increase with next year's reduced fees.