Spotsylvania County sixth-graders will be allowed to play most middle school sports starting next school year.
But they will continue to be ineligible for the football team—a rule at least one School Board member thinks should be revisited.
The School Board voted 7–0 Monday to approve the new policy. Previously, only seventh- and eighth-graders could try out for middle school sports teams.
The school system is following in the footsteps of nearby Stafford County, which approved a similar policy in 2013. The city of Fredericksburg also lets sixth-graders try out for any team but football.
“I think it’s an awesome way to get the sixth-graders actively involved more so in their middle school program,” School Board member Dawn Shelley said.
The new guidelines allow all middle-schoolers to try out for basketball, soccer, wrestling, volleyball, softball and track.
Sixth-graders will continue to be excluded from the football team because of a concern about the size difference between them and their older peers.
“There is a concussion factor that we do worry about,” said Director of Secondary Education Keith Wolfe.
Wolfe did say he would study the football issue further at the request of School Board member Amanda Blalock.
“Maybe it is the best thing, but I’m not sure how I feel about leaving out one sport,” Blalock said. She noted that sixth-graders who aren’t ready to play football at the middle school level would be cut from teams during tryouts.
School Board member Baron Braswell, who has coached middle school football, said “fully-matured” eighth-graders are significantly stronger than sixth-graders—even if they weigh the same amount.
“In football, the testosterone ... is a factor,” he said. “There is a difference in power” between sixth- and eighth-graders.
Meanwhile, Stafford’s middle school athletics manual says football is not an option for sixth-graders because of its “physical nature.” The other sports are open to sixth-graders with “exceptional emotional maturity and skill development,” the manual states.
In a report to the Spotsylvania School Board in December, officials said the positives of sixth-grade participation in sports included a “greater sense of belonging” and more time to develop as athletes. The negatives included the emotional impact on students who do not make a team and the need for more paid coaches to evaluate students during tryouts.
Middle school coaches earn a $1,386 stipend.
But on Tuesday, School Board member Erin Grampp said the policy would not cost additional tax dollars. An administrator said later that the sixth-graders will be competing for the same spots as the older students.
John Parthenakis, a Riverbend High School teacher and youth wrestling coach, spoke in support of the new policy. He said incoming sixth-graders, including his son, could wrestle at lower weight classes that can be hard to fill.
“There have been a lot of forfeits at the 75-pound, 85-pound weight class, and it gets pretty bleak when only one school in the whole county has a 75-pounder,” he said.