Policy change regarding sixth-grade athletics creates dilemma for Polk County, area schools

Published 9:02 am Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A recent change in state policy regarding middle school athletics has left districts across North Carolina, including Polk County, scrambling to react to the decision.

The North Carolina State Board of Education voted earlier this month to allow sixth grade students to immediately begin taking part in all middle school sports except football, pending local school district approval. The change, driven in large part by charter schools, caught many districts across the state by surprise, especially given that fall practice had already begun.

Polk County officials weren’t made aware of the change until August 11; Polk County Middle School teams began practice August 1, with the volleyball team holding tryouts and making roster selections during the first week of practice. The school’s volleyball, boys soccer and volleyball teams are scheduled to open their regular seasons on Wednesday.

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Reaction to the change has been mixed. Some school districts, such as Rutherford County, have already voted to allow sixth graders to compete while others, including Sampson County, have voted to continue to offer athletics only to students in grades seven and eight. Those opposed have cited the difference in physical maturity between sixth and eighth graders as well as the need to have sixth grade serve as a transition year from elementary school to the middle school level.

As is the case for most school districts in Western North Carolina, Polk County Schools has begun reviewing the policy change, but isn’t rushing to a decision. PCS Superintendent Aaron Greene started discussing the pros and cons of the change last week with members of the Polk County Board of Education as well as with other area superintendents, especially those with schools in the Blue Ridge Middle School Conference. Polk County Middle is a member of the 12-school BRMSC along with schools from Henderson, Haywood, Transylvania, Jackson, Macon and Madison counties.

“At this point, our thinking is that we want to wait and see what our conference meeting produces in terms of clarification and guidance,” Greene said. “It would be premature for us to make any decision regarding sixth grade athletics at this time. We will begin discussing the issue at our September board meeting.”

Madison County superintendent Todd Holden told the Citizen-Times that he thought all schools in a conference should follow the same policy and that districts should plan to make the change beginning with the 2017-18 school year.


– Submitted by PolkSports.com