Sixth-grade students won’t be allowed to play interscholastic sports in Wake County middle schools any time soon.
The State Board of Education revised its athletic policy in August to allow school districts across North Carolina to decide if they want to give sixth-grade students the ability to play on any interscholastic sports team except football. But on Monday, the Wake County school board’s student achievement committee voted to back a staff recommendation to continue limiting interscholastic sports in middle schools for students in seventh and eighth grades.
Administrators said Monday that sixth-graders would be more likely to get cut from teams that have limited spots, which might discourage them from trying out for athletics in later years. School officials also said that not playing sports could help sixth-grade students focus on the transition from elementary school.
“If we allow sixth-graders to try out and we stymie their interest by cutting them, you could have a long-term negative impact on high school sports,” said Deran Coe, Wake’s senior administrator for athletics.
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Historically, sixth-grade students have been limited to intramural sports in which they play against other students at their middle school. But the State Board’s change in policy caused North Carolina’s 115 school districts to reevaluate middle school interscholastic sports.
Some school districts such as Johnston County and Durham quickly moved to extend the sports option for sixth-grade students this school year. But some districts such as Buncombe County in Western North Carolina voted against extending sports eligibility for sixth-grade students.
Depending on the school, middle schools in Wake offer interscholastic sports teams such as basketball, baseball, cheerleading, soccer, softball and track and field.
There are multiple reasons, advocates say, for allowing sixth-grade students to play on sports teams, including:
▪ Gives students an additional opportunity to be engaged in school;
▪ Research shows students involved in sports are more likely to stay in school and get better grades;
▪ Provides students earlier access to quality instruction, skill development and positive role models;
▪ Provides fairness to families who don’t have the means to pursue sports outside of school.
But Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore said two-thirds of the feedback from Wake middle school principals was against letting sixth-grade students play.
Coe said some principals were concerned about the physical mismatch of sixth-grade students playing against eighth-grade students.
School board member Jim Martin said Wake should look at expanding intramural opportunities instead of interscholastic sports at middle schools.
School board member Bill Fletcher said he also suspects that sixth-grade students who are skilled enough to play sports are probably competing elsewhere, such as the Capital Area Sports League.