COLUMN: New middle school rule puts academics over athletics

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By John Shindlebower

Academics over athletics. While college coaches and administrators have twisted those priorities in recent years, middle school and high school educators at the state level took a step in the direction of common sense last week with a new regulation that will prevent parents from holding back middle school students just so they can get a leg up on the competition.The Kentucky Board of Education, acting on a recommendation from the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, approved last week, a regulation that would prohibit any child held back in middle school from competing in athletics during the year which they are repeating.
So that son of yours who sprouted to 6’2 as a 8th grader but who needs work on his dribbling and jump shot before high school, will not allowed to repeat 8th grade and enjoy another year of competition against middle schoolers. They can be held back and repeat the grade, but they won’t be allowed to play sports in the middle school.Granted, there may be some situations where a young athlete is held back because an illness or injury kept them out of school for a prolonged time, forcing them to make up a year. But in most instances, athletes have been held back to repeat a grade to give them a competitive advantage and to boost their athletic stock later in life.
Many parents often cite academics in holding back students in middle school, but often the real reason is athletics. KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett rightly argued that if parents are truly worried about the academic progress of their child, then sports should be the last thing on their mind during that repeating year.“Your focus should be on remediation of your academic work or whatever was the reason; it shouldn’t be simply so you can be a scholarship athlete by the time you are a senior,” he said.

In addition to ensuring that academics take precedence over athletics, the new regulation will also keep young athletes safer on the fields and courts. Holding back an 8th grade student could help reduce the threat of severe injury of younger, smaller players.An 8th grader who is held back, could be nearing his 15th birthday and previously could be lining up against kids as young as 11 or 12. As most parents recognize, dramatic growth and physical maturity can take place in those few years. An 8th grader who is being held back can be nearly fully grown, while a sixth or seventh grader could just be entering puberty.
I love sports. Not just the competition aspect, but the lessons that young people can learn from participating. The experiences a kid can get on the practice field or in a game are the kind that are impossible to replicate in a text book. However, sports should never be the main focus of a school, or a student. And definitely should not be the main focus of a parent.Middle school is one of the most awkward times in a young person’s life. So many changes are taking place physically and socially. Sports has the ability to be both a great encourager and a devastating discourager.
I’d like to see more emphasis on middle school sports as a teaching period, and less than a competitive period. Kids are hurt by unfair expectations and premature rejection in middle school.In 8th grade, I had a classmate who was over 6 foot tall and who was shaving every day. He was athletic and everyone knew he was going to be the next great athlete from Winchester. The problem is, he peaked in 8th grade. He stopped growing. While he was among the best in junior high, he got passed up in high school and was pretty much through with sports after his sophomore year.
At the same time, I saw kids who were stuck on short in 7th and 8th grade. They never caught the eyes of the coaches and they were routinely passed over because of their lack of stature and strength. Then all of a sudden you saw them after a summer in high school and they were different guys. They were now taller than you, faster than you and better than you. But they had no experience and even less confidence because they’d never been given a shot to make the team when they were in junior high.Middle school coaches should consider their jobs to be more of teacher than as coach. Wins and losses are not nearly as important as developing skills and confidence. If you’ve got a team of 15 boys on the bench and only seven get to play, you’re failing eight of those kids. You’re also failing the high school program who needs that kid in the 10th spot who is going to be 6’5 as a senior but gave up in middle school because all his hard work in practice never earned him any game time.
You can walk into any high school in Kentucky and find students who could be good varsity athletes had they not been discouraged in middle school. The fault lies with the administrators, coaches and the parents who place more emphasis on winning than learning. This latest KHSAA regulation is a step in the right direction.KHSAA ANNOUNCES NEW FOOTBALL ALIGNMENT
The Spencer County Bears football team will see a change in their district alignment beginning with the 2015 season.For the upcoming 2014 season, the Bears will remain in the third district of Class 4A, which includes North Oldham, Collins, Atherton and Waggener. Beginning the following season however, Spencer County will be placed in the 4th District of Class 4A. Joining them will be Collins, North Oldham and Franklin County. Waggener drops to 3A and Atherton moves up to 5A.