WARRENSVILLE — The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has decided that sixth grade students in the state can play middle school sports, with one exception.
Each county’s local school board must also approve the decision, and those rulings have been mixed so far across the area.
Avery County approved the change to allow sixth graders to play middle school sports while Wilkes, Yadkin and Surry Counties as well as Elkin city schools all either rejected the change or have held off on a decision.
For Ashe County, the change will not take place for the 2016-17 athletic seasons
“That would take a lot of organization and we’re not ready to go there this year that’s for sure,” said Ashe County Superintendent Phyllis Yates.
Other factors were included in the county’s decision including transportation issues and the middle school conference decision making as a whole.
“The league that the middle school plays in with Wilkes County, Elkin city schools and Alleghany met last Tuesday in a conference meeting and decided that they would not do anything this year with sixth graders until they can figure out what they want to do,” said Ashe County Athletic Director Marc Payne. “It was a unanimous decision by the league to not put something together on quick notice that might not work.”
The state board of education made this decision about two weeks before school started for most children in the state, which has also been an issue that counties have had to work around, whether they are in support of the change or not.
“This creates a lot of different logistical situations to deal with. For example for Ashe County, we would have to bus sixth graders to the middle school. Wilkes County middle schools already have sixth graders in the building,” said Payne. “The bottom line is Ashe, Alleghany, Wilkes and Elkin city schools determined that they would not infuse sixth graders into the system this year.”
Fair competition also comes into account when adding sixth graders to the mix. For sports such as basketball, games are played by grade level at the middle school with seventh grade teams facing each other and eighth grade teams facing each other. Also, some teams in the conference do not have enough players for boys’ and girls’ soccer teams so they play co-ed soccer, another factor to consider when adding in another entire grade level.
“There will be a lot of studying going on by the league to figure out how to set up competition,” said Payne
As of right now, even if the change does take place in the near future for Ashe and surrounding counties, one thing will not change. Sixth grade athletes in Ashe County will not be eligible to play in middle school football leagues, according to the current rule from the NCDPI.
“Ashe County is the only school in the conference that follows true DPI middle school policies for football. The rest of the schools are playing ‘club’ football so to say,” Payne said. “They follow middle school rules for eligibility but basically it is a club sport situation.”
Nathan Ham can be reached at 336-489-3062.