Puyallup School District officials are hoping for a smooth transition this August, when ninth-grade athletes from all junior high sports programs will be invited to compete on 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 in the 2014-15 school year.
Parents and other community members will have a chance to learn more at a series of meetings this week. On April 7, the school board will hear from a task force that’s been helping formulate the 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.
Many ninth-grade athletes play on high school teams, but others play for their junior high teams. That often means competing only against other Puyallup schools. Junior high sports seasons are shorter, training opportunities fewer and contests less competitive.
The school district has said it wants to provide equitable competition opportunities for all student athletes. Athletics director Rick Wells notes that Puyallup is the only district along Washington’s Interstate 5 corridor without a full four-year athletic configuration this school year.
But at least one parent says 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, 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 it might be years before the district moves to a four-year high school system. Puyallup studied making the switch a few years ago, but it proved controversial with parents and the district stuck with the system it has.
“They’re in a tough spot,” Schumock 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 that can’t accommodate everyone.
“Theoretically, we are talking about having two-thirds fewer children playing sports in ninth grade,” Schumock wrote in an email 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 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.
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 as well as 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 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: parent support, academic expectations, financial resources — even student perceptions about whether teachers like them.
“If athletics are the only thing holding my (school) together, I’m in trouble,” Wells said.
Puyallup sports forums
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 at Rogers High School.
• Tuesday at Puyallup High School.
• Wednesday at Emerald Ridge High School.
Each meeting will take place from 6:30-8:30 p.m.
More information is available on the district website:
www.puyallup.k12.wa.us.Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 debbie.cafazzo@ thenewstribune.com @DebbieCafazzo