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Board Members Vote 6-3 for Middle School Athletics Policy

Daniel Prince

Tensions run high during meeting

Last Monday, the Union County School Board discussed a policy regarding middle school athletics. The form deals with changing the level of athletic participation for 7th- and 8th-graders to any high school team in volleyball, basketball, baseball, or softball. It calls for communication among the parents, middle school coaches, athletic directors, and principals, and high school coaches, athletic director, and principal. If a player plays for the middle school team and then moves up to JV or varsity, SC High School League rules state they cannot move back down to play for the middle school team that season. The form allows for an appeal if there is disagreement by the parent or schools of the decision to move up or remain at the middle school level, with the final decision mediated by the district athletic director and high school principal. The form states that threats from parents to withhold the athlete from competing at the middle school level will not influence the final decision of the district AD. The guidelines state that a student may play at the varsity level if their ability to play exceeds that of the average middle school student-athlete. Middle school and high school coaches should communicate about any athlete they feel is athletically, academically, and socially ready to compete at the varsity level. Once all coaches and parents agree, the student can participate in varsity try-outs. If varsity, JV, and middle school coaches feel the athlete can successfully compete at the varsity level to benefit the entire athletic program and the athlete, a recommendation will be made to the parents for the athlete to move up. If the parent agrees, the athlete can move up, but if not, the athlete would remain at the middle school level. Parents would be responsible for transporting the student from the middle school to the high school when they are on a high school team. If a middle school has a large number of athletes try out in a particular sport, then being pulled up to JV will be considered by the coaches and ADs. The policy states that high school coaches should not initiate contact with the athlete or their parents before talking with the middle school coach.

At the meeting, Board Chair Doc Lipsey proposed several amendments, starting with the wording of the “large number of athletes” part. He said that was too vague and should be eliminated. He said he also wanted to see a clause added that would grandfather in the 7th-graders who played up this year without any penalty. He said he also wanted to see something in there that would guarantee that if a middle school player were to be moved up, that the athlete would play at least 50% of the time at that level; otherwise, the player should remain at the middle school level. Board member Mike Massey added that this policy should not be triggered until after JV tryouts are held to keep from discouraging potential JV players at the high school from trying out. Board member Manning Jeter said the first time he saw the policy was at the meeting and he hadn’t had time to review it. Lipsey said the policy was sent to the board by email earlier that day. Jeter asked if any of the high school coaches or other coaches were consulted about this policy, and Jonesville AD Jay Voiselle said no, but that wasn’t his call to make. Jeter also asked if the ADs had talked to any board members about this prior to the meeting, and they said no. Jeter said he thought the motion should be tabled until all coaches, principals, and athletic directors could sit down and get everyone’s input into the policy. He asked how middle school sports could dictate what goes on at the high school level, and how girls’ softball could dictate what goes on in sports in Union County. Jeter then said he wished they had that much passion for education, a remark that Coach Voiselle said he took high offense to. The board voted 6-3 to enact the policy with the noted revisions, with Mark Ivey and B.J. McMorris joining Manning Jeter in voting no.

After the vote, Manning accused the board members again of having already discussed it, with Lipsey again noting the policy had come in an email that afternoon. Following the meeting, Voiselle and Jeter exchanged words, as Voiselle expressed his displeasure to Jeter that he had accused him of caring more about athletics than academics. Both left the meeting without further incident.

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