DISTRICT TO ADOPT NEW POLICY FOR STUDENT ATHLETES TO "PLAY UP"
At this past Thursday’s North Shore Board of Education meeting, the Trustees, Superintendent Dr. Edward Melnick, and Athletics Director Don Lang discussed changes to the New York State Department of Education’s Athletics Select Classification policy which enables seventh and eighth graders who satisfy certain criteria to compete at the high school JV or Varsity levels. The new state regulations make those requirements significantly more stringent. Districts that choose to allow student athletes to “play up” must pass a resolution agreeing to adhere to the new procedures.
According to Mr. Lang, 15 to 20 seventh or eighth graders play at the high school level each year, but excluding tennis and swimming, only about half that number do so.
Dr. Melnick opened the discussion stating that the issue has been an area of concern to many community members who believe the system has been abused with too many middle school athletes playing up, which in turn displaces athletes who are juniors or seniors. Others he said, support keeping the system in place.
“There are some coaches who put pressure on kids to move up because it would allow the teams to be more competitive,” he added. “My understanding of the policy is that it is for kids who are so elite in their sport tha they would not have an appropriate challenge at their age level.”
The Superintendent then threw the question out to the board. There appeared to be unanimous support for adopting the resolution, with Trustee Joanna Commander, who served as an Athletics Director in two districts, speaking in favor of the more stringent requirements and suggesting that the district even consider additional procedures and rules.
Ms. Commander explained some of the differences between the old and new regulations, which will no longer be called Selection Classification but rather the Athletic Placement Program (APP). Under the current regulations, student athletes can seek waivers to bypass requirements that they are unable to satisfy. Those loopholes will be closed under the new policy. Also, the District Athletic Director will now have to approve any middle school student athlete playing at the high school level. To protect the interests of athletes, that approval should be based on, the state regulations read, the likelihood that they would be likely to play in at least 50% of the games, and that they be academically at or above grade level, and be emotionally mature enough to socialize with high school students. The new regulations also require that the district medical official not only make a determination regarding the athlete's physical maturity level, but also to compare the physical size of the student to those with whom he or she will be competing, before granting approval to play at the higher level.
The regulations, said Trustee Commander, "are a tremendous improvement that will protect everyone involved." She said she would support the resolution adopting the new regulations, but added that there were additional procedures she would like to be put in place. "The athletic director has been given unfair responsibility," she said, and suggested that a committee comprising the school nurse, a guidance counselor, and the Athletic Director consider whether or not the student is emotionally and academically ready, with the AD ultimately making the decision. She also expressed concern about allowing middle school football players to play at the high school level in light of the understanding of the dangers of frequent blows to the head. Mr. Lange said while students have played up in other sports, North Shore Middle School football players have never made that leap.
During public comment, two parents spoke on the issue.
Steve Grabher, president of the Athletics Booster Club spoke in favor of the resolution, saying that two of his children had benefited tremendously from playing up. "For certain kids it makes a difference," he said. "There are kids ready to go up to the next level."
Lisa Vizza, recently elected co-President of the district's Coordinating Council, spoke of the importance of clearly communicating the new regulations to parents. She said that the Coordinating Council was one vehicle through which that could be done.
The board will vote to adopt the Athletic Placement Program resolution at its next board meeting on June 4.
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