Middle-school sports: who gets to play

In elementary school, athletics are meant to teach kids how to be part of a team, how to be a good sport. The pursuit of a sport also is supposed to teach the three F’s to kids: fun, fitness and fundamentals. Everyone gets to play, no matter each one’s skill level, no matter the score.

In high school, things are a bit different. Kids won’t play (and often won’t make the team) if they’re not judged to have the skill level.

Coaches are supposed to put together a winning squad, and as long as they follow the right guidelines that’s often all that matters. If they don’t, they probably won’t be coming back to the job next season.

But where should the transition between the two take place? In theKyreneSchool District, this seems to be a hot topic.

At the start of the 2011-12 school year the Kyrene Athletic Department made a guideline change that would allow sixth graders to try out for what used to be the eighth and seventh grade teams.

According to district Athletic Director Amanda Hamm, this change represented an effort to help out schools that have trouble filling rosters for two teams in sports that may not have been as popular.

With the new guidelines, schools can have a varsity and a junior varsity team for each of the sports, which in turn creates more games and more playing opportunities for everyone in the league.

Sounds like a good thing, right?

For the most part, people across the district accepted the new approach without much thought. But at Kyrene Middle School, where the baseball team had 50 or so kids try out before the change was made, it created an abundance of young athletes trying out for two teams.

It also brought up the question: at what age should a child be allowed to play sports at a competitive level? The guidelines left 11-year-olds playing on the same team as 14-year-olds, something with which many parents felt uncomfortable. It also left a number of seventh grade students who were just barely going to make the team before, now watching from the stands.

Gail Ewen, who is the mother of a student who tried out for the baseball team, says that it brought the sport to a competition level that excluded some students.

“There are always a lot of kids who try out for any of the teams (at KMS), and now we’re putting a whole ‘nother class in,” said Ewen. “That leaves less spots for everyone.”

At some point in life, 99.9 percent of athletes are faced with the reality that they’re not good enough to play at a professional level. However, youth sports is not supposed to be that place. It’s a concept that’s meant to include everyone in an effort to translate valuable life lessons from the game into everyday life.

Michelle Hirsch, governing board president for the Kyrene district, says that the message being sent out isn’t clear.

“Decide what we are doing, why we’re doing it, and be consistent.”

Everyone involved has one goal: to allow as many students as possible the opportunity to participate in youth sports, while ensuring the safety of those involved.

By opening tryouts to sixth graders, middle schools like Aprende and Pueblo can have two teams for each sport, offering all of the schools involved more games and a longer season. At schools with an abundance of students, however, it leaves some even earlier than before facing the reality that at some point, when you’re not good enough, you  won’t get a chance to play.

The athletic department for the district is emailing a survey to parents of middle-school students asking for input on the subject. It asks parents’ opinions on whether the current program model is in the best interest of the students. There’s also an open-comment section to offer ideas on how to help the program.

Parents, coaches, athletic department staff and board members interviewed for this report say there are many ideas that would help to improve the current situation.

One option that has been explored would be to allow only sixth graders to try out at the schools that need the extra players.

“People I’ve talked to have wondered why we didn’t stick with the idea that, if you don’t have enough kids try out, then you invite the sixth graders,” says Ewen.

If the district is trying to avoid upsetting parents, however, letting sixth graders play at some schools but not others may not be the best resolution.

Another choice may be to offer an intramural league like the ACAC program that theTempeSchool Districtuses. ACAC is a program developed for students who weren’t good enough to make the school team or for whatever reason could not try out that season.

The league could offer teams for each grade level, at schools which have more kids than roster sports and would offer practices and games for many sports including volleyball, flag football and basketball. Due to limitations in funds, however, it has yet to be determined whether or not that’s an option for Kyrene.

At this point, all those involved simply want to have their opinion heard.

That will happen, say observers, if those with an opinion don’t remain on the sidelines, attend board meetings and make sure their thoughts are known about this or any other matter they feel will result in the betterment of all Kyrene students.


  1. Allowing 6th graders is giving them an oportunity to have an introduction to what lies ahead for them in JR. High. Sports like football or basketball were you could have a 200 pound 8th grader hitting a 90 pound 6th grader should be the only concern . the sport of wrestling, golf, tennis , gymnastics, swiming do not apply to this issue and 6th graders should be invited to these sports. 30 year coach.

  2. 6th graders should be able to play sports because it allows them to get comfortable in their school environment and unleash new opportunities. Aswell as, allowing them to have fun and create new friends in a younger grade level. We should be able play, and participate in 7th and 8th grade sports.


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