Ninth-grade athletes from Puyallup’s junior high schools will soon be suiting up for the Puyallup High School Vikings, the Rogers Rams or the Emerald Ridge Jaguars.
The Puyallup School Board voted Monday night to go forward with a detailed plan that follows a directive the board made last year: to even the playing field for student-athletes caught between junior high and high school.
The plan takes effect with the start of the 2014-15 school sports season.
Puyallup is one of the last districts in Pierce County to have junior highs (grades 7-9) instead of middle schools (grades 6-8). For years, some junior high ninth-graders were allowed to compete at the high school level because there were no junior high equivalent sports. Swimmers, tennis players, baseball and softball players and others already play for high school teams.
But many others — including those who play football, basketball or volleyball or who wrestle — have been restricted to junior high teams.
That gives them shorter seasons and fewer games than their peers in the South Puget Sound League. That’s why the School Board wanted to make the change.
“I’d love to be there on that first day that a ninth-grader winds up wearing a jersey for their high school,” said board member Pat Donovan. He cited a board goal of helping students make a smoother transition from junior high to high school.
The change will come at a cost, both financial and logistical. District officials estimate one-time costs next year — for new uniforms and equipment — at $180,000. Athletic director Rick Wells said that figure includes an anticipated increase in participation by students who will want to compete at a higher level.
He said this money will come from previous funds set aside for this purpose, not from current levy dollars.
There are also ongoing costs, including an estimated $20,000 a year in increased pay for more coaches working longer seasons. Busing will cost about $158,000 more a year.
Some parents have expressed concerns that a change intended to bring equity could wind up shortchanging some students.
Several spoke to the board Monday.
Parent Lisa Hope said Puyallup High soccer teams already have a hard time scheduling practices because there’s no school practice field. Adding ninth-grade teams will only exacerbate the problem, she said.
Three Puyallup girls’ soccer team members — Jessica Udovich, Jordyn Bartelson and Liz Griffith — told the board that adding another team will make it impossible for ninth-grade, junior varsity and varsity teams to practice together. The result, Liz said, is that unity will suffer.
Board members acknowledged the new system will have wrinkles. But they agreed the trade-offs are worth it.
Board member Kathy Yang said she lost sleep over the year-long debate and the varying viewpoints expressed by parents.
In the end, she said, she believes the move “will be giving our kids the opportunity to reach to the highest level they can.”