Sampson Independent

Officials mull athletics for sixth graders

After having concerns about letting sixth-graders play sports in 2017, there’s a possibility that school officials will allow them to suit up soon.

During a Tuesday work session for Sampson County Schools (SCS) Board of Education, Athletic Coordinator Al Britt presented a proposal to give the students a chance to compete with older students on the middle school level — with the exception of football.

“I support it fully,” Britt said. “What they tell me around the state is that you’ll have one or two kids make a team. You won’t have a lot of kids make it. The ones who make it are physically mature enough to participate. They’re the better athletes, just like you have better students. We have academically gifted students in this county that we place because they need to go somewhere else. Athletes are the same way — they can participate.”

He added that a lot youths participate in leagues not associated with schools. Adding two or three more players may also be a fix to not having enough signed up for particular teams.

“They’re ready to play and for us on the Sampson County level, we’ve got some schools that struggle at times to make the teams,” Britt said, citing soccer and softball as examples. “We were real close to not making a team at a couple of schools.”

Britt said charter schools were driving the idea a few years ago because they didn’t have the numbers to fill teams. North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI), which governs middle school sports, allowed those to schools to have sixth-grade participation. At the time, Britt and other board members was unsure about how it would work in SCS because of the physical difference between students. One of the original arguments was that students should be separated based on their grade levels.

“But in reality, they get on the bus and ride to school together,” Britt said. “And after school they get on the bus and ride on the bus together. When we have the spring dance, they all go to the spring dance.”

According to recent estimates, more than 60 districts across the state allow sixth-graders to play. That number includes the majority counties bordering Sampson — Johnston, Wayne, Pender, Bladen, Cumberland and Harnett. The lone county not allowing play at the grade level is Duplin.

“I think it’s time we look at that. It will help us on the athletic level,” Britt said. “We got some schools that would really benefit from letting those kids play and the kids themselves would benefit. When I got started in education, they said if you make a mistake, you make it in favor of the kid. I think this would be in favor of the kids.”

Board Member Telfair Simpson said he wasn’t in favor of it three years ago. Now, he agrees with the points made by Britt and feels comfortable with the decision.

“Having coached for many years, I agree with the philosophy in what’s going on in other (Local Education Agencies) and what they’ve seen,” Simpson said. “We’re not doing this off the cuff. There’s some data to go with it.”

Board Chairman Tim Register believes it’s the right action to take as well. All middle school athletic directors in the Sampson District are in favor.

The SCS board is scheduled to make an official decision during its regular board meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, May 21, at the Central Office Auditorium, 437 Rowan Road, Clinton.

County Athletic Coordinator Al Britt speaks to board members about sixth-graders playing sports. Athletic Coordinator Al Britt speaks to board members about sixth-graders playing sports.

By Chase Jordan

Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.