State education officials recently agreed to let sixth-graders play middle school sports, but leaders from Sampson County Schools are turning down the concept.
Al Britt, athletic coordinator for Sampson County Schools, discussed the matter with the Board of Education during a Tuesday meeting. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) decided to make sixth-graders eligible to play and leaving the decision up to school districts — a decision sparked by requests from charter schools.
“At the charter school level, they do no have enough students to make a team,” Britt said about NCDPI trying to help out independent schools. “That is a change from what we’ve done since 1952.”
Wake, Cumberland, Wilson, Johnston and Duplin counties have said “no” to sixth-grade play. Sampson County is doing the same. Athletic officials said they believe youths are not physically ready at that age.
“They could be 12 years old in the sixth grade and be 15 years old by the eighth grade,” Britt said while discussing the possible age gap between students entering middle school and those almost ready for high school. According to the rules, an eighth-grade student is not allowed to play if he or she turns 15 by Aug. 31, but may do so if a birthday falls on Sept. 1.
“At that development stage, we feel that it’s too much,” Britt said.
Instead, Britt requested to keep a rule more than 60 years old intact by only allowing seventh- and eighth-graders to play. “What the DPI is trying to do is solve a charter school problem, not a problem for us,” Britt said. “We think that we will open up a can of worms if we cross that threshold.”
Some board members asked if someone aging out would be eligible to play. Britt said a middle school student aging out would go to the high school and have eight semesters of eligibility, if they turn 15 in August. During the senior year, the playing time would expire.
“He would age out at the high school also. That would take care of that end of it,” Britt said. “As far as when they begin, we’ve always gone with the seventh- and eighth-graders.”
But Britt said NCDPI granted some leeway with individual cases.
All sports, expect football, are allowed for sixth-graders by NCDPI. Britt believes that may come next year. Board chairman Telfair Simpson said he could understand an exception for baseball, but had doubts about football and basketball.
“Obviously football will be a hazardous situation, I believe,” Simpson said. “Most of them are not going to be physically, mentally or socially developed to play. A lot of seventh-graders don’t even get to play, so obviously the sixth-graders won’t get to play or be used as tackle dummies.”
Outside of school, students at that level have the opportunity to play sports through local recreation departments.
“They are served on the athletic side through county recreation,” Britt said. “That model has served us pretty well in Sampson County and we would like to continue that.”
The North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) governs grades 9-12 and since the 1950s, NCDPI regulated middle schools. While showing the board copies of the manuals, Britt said the NCHSAA has declined to handle grades 6-8.
Simpson said the board will research the matter about sixth-grade participation before making a final decision.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.