Sixth grade students across the state could soon have the ability to compete in interscholastic athletics following the North Carolina State Board of Education’s decision to change the policy on participation.
The board, which governs middle school athletics, made the change at their board meeting on August 4, allowing sixth graders to participate in school sports alongside seventh and eighth graders with the exception of football.
“The original policy had been in place for more than 25 years,” said Burt Jenkins of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. “The discussion to change it came from essentially two areas. First, the policy was revisited as many schools, primarily charters, were not following the current state board policy. It was brought before the board to clarify the rule. Second, parents and students made requests to the school boards to consider a change.”
According to Rick Holliday, Deputy Superintendent of New Hanover County Schools, the policy change gives local schools the option to change their policy, but is not a mandate. Local boards of education are now required to determine if they want to make sixth graders eligible for athletics. New Hanover County will discuss a proposed change to policy during September’s board committee meeting.
“There are pluses and minuses on both sides of this,” said Holliday. “Taking football out of the equation makes sense. Logistically, we may have some issues as our sixth graders were not eligible when we had our athletic medical screenings at the end of the year, so none of them have been screened. We will be prepared to do whatever our board wants to do.”
This change only affects students within the public school system as private schools, including Wilmington-based Cape Fear Academy, operate under different circumstances.
Cape Fear Academy participates at the high school level in the North Carolina Independent School Athletics Association (NCISAA). The NCISAA allows varsity participation from students in grades 7-12. The participation of middle school students helps small schools field varsity teams in several sports, according to CFA Athletics Director Chris Meehl.
At the middle school level, CFA in the Southeastern Middle School League (SMSL) comprised of private middle school teams in the Wilmington area. The SMSL allows students in grades 6-8 to compete.
“Cape Fear Academy starts interscholastic competition in 7th grade,” said Meehl. “This policy is consistent with the same type of academic independent schools like Cary Academy, Ravenscroft School, and Durham Academy.
“Two reasons we start in 7th grade are we feel that students should be able to adjust to new academic rigors of middle school without additional distraction and the physical development of 6th graders and 8th graders can be vastly different. The safety of our students is of utmost importance to our administration.”