Puyallup School District officials are hoping for a smooth transition this August, when ninth grade athletes from all its junior high sports programs will be invited to compete on sports teams at the district’s three comprehensive high schools.
The Puyallup School Board decided last spring that all ninth graders should be included in the district’s high school interscholastic sports programs, beginning with the 2014-15 school year.
Parents and other members of the community will have a chance to learn more about what the school district has planned at a series of upcoming meetings beginning Monday March 3. (See below) Then on April 7, the school board will hear from a task force that’s been helping to formulate those plans.
Puyallup’s high schools include students in grades 10 through 12, while its seven junior highs are for students in grades seven through nine. Currently, many of Puyallup’s ninth grade athletes play on high school teams, even though they attend junior high. But others, including football, basketball and volleyball players, do not. They play on junior high teams, and that often means competing only against other Puyallup schools. Junior high sports seasons are shorter, training opportunities are fewer and contests are less competitive, advocates of the switch say.
The school district has said it wants to provide equitable competition opportunities for all its student athletes. School district Athletic Director Rick Wells notes that Puyallup is the only school district along Washington’s I-5 corridor without a full four-year athletic configuration this school year.
But at least one parent says that the decision to move ninth grade athletes to high school sports teams is premature.
Phil Schumock, the parent of an eighth-grader and a sixth grader in Puyallup schools, says the district should wait until Puyallup has four-year high schools before making a transition to four-year sports programs.
Schumock, who has spoken to the school board about his concerns, acknowledges that it might be years before the school district moves to a four-year high school system.
“They’re in a tough spot,” he said.
But he also believes that making the change in sports programs now will shortchange kids.
He said the pool of ninth graders, who now play in seven different junior highs, will be funneled into just three high school programs.
“Theoretically, were are talking about having two-thirds fewer children playing sports in ninth grade,” Schumock wrote in an e-mail to officials. “Perhaps this is fine for elite athletes, but for the 90 percent of students that just want to play, their options will be extremely limited.”
Wells said that’s not necessarily true. He said some junior highs have struggled to fill their rosters with a full contingent of ninth graders, and have had to add eighth graders to complete the teams.
“If you do the raw math, it might look like we are cutting out kids,” Wells said. “But it’s not really like that.”
Wells said the task force will recommend junior highs form intramural programs for students who want to play for fun, and not compete at the high school level.
Schumock also argues that getting ninth graders to and from high school practices will create transportation issues. And he says removing ninth grade athletes from the junior highs will impact school spirit.
“I don’t want it to become elite players and parents versus others,” he said in an interview with the News Tribune. “I just want more kids playing sports.”
Wells said the task force has been working on plans to deal with transportation, scheduling, coaching, uniform and equipment needs, and other issues.
He said the task force has also looked closely at the issue of school culture and climate, and how moving ninth grade athletes to high school teams might affect it. He said task force members looked at research published by the U.S. Department of Education which showed that multiple factors influence school climate: parental support, academic expectations, financial resources -- even student perceptions about whether teachers like them.
“If athletics are the only thing holding my building together, I’m in trouble,” Wells said.
Information about the Puyallup School District’s plans to switch ninth grade athletes from junior high to high school teams will be presented in three meetings this week:
Monday March 3 at Rogers High School
Tuesday March 4 at Puyallup High School
Wednesday March 5 at Emerald Ridge High School
Each of the meetings will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
More information is available on the district Website, www.puyallup.k12.wa.us