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Athletic Eligibility

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Educators say proposed eligibility change should help 9th grade transition

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    The CMS board meets 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St. There is no public hearing on the athletic eligibility policy, but the board will hear brief public remarks on any topic. To speak, call 980-343-5139 by noon Tuesday or sign up at the start of the meeting.



Educators expect that a proposed eligibility policy change will help smooth the transition from middle school to high school and provide more support for student athletes who previously struggled with academics.

The proposed policy that will be voted on Tuesday by the Charlotte Mecklenburg School board would make all students entering the ninth grade eligible for sports and extra-curricular activities. Currently students who fall below a 2.0 GPA (a C average) or 85 percent attendance during their last semester of eighth grade are ineligible for ninth-grade sports and other school-sponsored activities.

“The most important thing for a ninth-grader is to get involved in your school,” said Myers Park High principal Mark Bosco. “It’s a good incentive for freshmen to be engaged with their school. The most important thing I look at (in) a successful transition from middle school to high school is that they not come … necessarily on grade level or passing all their grades, but making a connection (at their) high school.”

The revised policy is consistent with N.C. High School Athletic Association rules. Most other N.C. school districts – including Gaston, Cabarrus, Union and Wake – also follow the NCHSAA rules.

“Statistics tell us that there is a fall-off at the beginning of sixth grade, when they enter middle school, and ninth grade, in high school,” said Bill Anderson, executive director of the public school advocacy group MeckEd. “It’s easy to get lost in a new environment; kids can’t find their place. Good athletes can get snatched up by their teams and help them feel like they’re part of something.”

Myers Park’s Bosco sees it as a preventative measure for at-risk students who might struggle if they don’t assimilate themselves into the high school culture.

“If you’ve got a student who is going to play football and their grades have been a little shaky, that coach is going to make sure that the student is getting extra help,” Bosco said.

“If a student is coming from (middle school) and they want to play football or play soccer or run cross-country, I want to get them involved with that. But I also want to make sure that we have the added layer of support for those students.”

Support, in this case, comes from the structure of involvement. Board member Eric Davis agrees, saying that participating in sports creates an opportunity for rising freshman to become engaged in high school and their academics.

“We are counting on the structure, support, teamwork, coaching and the whole environment that an athletic team provides to a student to help lift their performance in academics,” Davis said. “We are counting on structure overcoming the time commitment.”

Davis said the board reviewed studies that support the claim that athletics increase a student’s potential in the classroom.

If passed, the new policy could have pitfalls, some say.

“For eighth-graders, it could really serve as no motivation to finish well in middle school because most of the time you’re talking more about already at-risk students,” said Ben Page, coach of the Charlotte Urban Eagles, a soccer team primarily made up of underprivileged middle school and high school students. “So you’re not giving them a ton of motivation.

“That said, how you start your ninth-grade year is important – more so than how you end eighth grade. This is the place you’ll be spending your next four years. If you start on a sports team coming out of an at-risk situation, it’s my opinion that your chances (of succeeding in high school) are much better.”

The policy change sends the wrong message, said Judy Kidd, president of the Classroom Teachers Association of North Carolina.

“It’s a concern that there is a removal of motivation in middle school that will weaken a stronger foundation of learning in high school,” Kidd said. “We are lowering the floor instead of raising the ceiling.”

The policy is being fast-tracked through the board so it can be implemented for the start of the fall athletic season Aug. 1.

Board member Tom Tate, who chairs the policy committee, said a survey of CMS high school and middle school principals indicated broad support for the change. Tate said there was no data available to show how many eighth-graders might be affected. Tate said last week that he wasn’t sure why the staff brought the proposal to the board so close to August tryouts.

Board Chair Mary McCray doesn’t think the board is acting too quickly. She said discussions about the proposed policy have been happening for more than a year.

“I don’t see it as being fast-tracked,” she said. “It is something that has been thought out.” Staff writer Ann Doss Helms contributed to this article.

Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
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