Local school systems debate whether to allow 6th graders in sports

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – Big changes could be coming to sports in schools across North Carolina, as the State Board of Education is now allowing 6th graders to participate in sports.

Local school districts get the final say in whether or not to change school policies. So far, nearly 30 of the 115 Local Education Agencies in the state have decided to allow 6th graders in sports. Most that WNCT reached out to say they’re still considering their options, but big changes could be ahead.

The idea is that allowing 6th graders to play sports would help smaller schools that struggle sometimes to fill teams.

Pitt County leaders surveyed 22 middle school principals and athletic directors. Only 3 supported the change, 12 were completely against it, and 7 were neutral.

Some are concerned that too many 6th graders wouldn’t make the cut and would then be discouraged from trying again in the future.

“You can offer an opportunity, but when you offer that opportunity to somebody and a 6th grader gets it, someone has to give up an opportunity. You know, so are they ready physically? Now they’re not allowed to play football, that’s part of the rule. Are they ready physically in other sports? You know, could we do it in non-contact sports, running sports?” said Pitt County Schools Athletic Director Ron Butler.

Others, like Beaufort County Schools, are already saying no. Athletic Director Joe Tkach says there are some advantages.

“We have to turn away fewer kids. You only have 5 on a basketball court and you have 7th and 8th graders playing then you have 6th graders come out, you’re going to have to cut more to make a team up. That would be a benefit. Safety…. Kids haven’t fully developed yet,” Tkach said.

The new policy applies to all sports except football.

Some of those still deciding in the East include Pitt, Martin, Lenoir, and Onslow County Schools. Washington County Schools will allow 6th graders in sports.

Most school systems hope to make a decision by January or February to allow people enough time to get physical exams.

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