Orange County

Sixth-grade athletes? Not in Chapel Hill-Carrboro middle-school sports

The Culbreth Middle School Cougars play the Phillips Falcons in a yearly contest in this archive photo.
The Culbreth Middle School Cougars play the Phillips Falcons in a yearly contest in this archive photo. Harry Lynch

The Chapel Hill-Carboro City Schools will continue to ban sixth-graders from participating in middle-school school athletics, despite the state now allowing it.

The State Board of Education decided in August 2016 to change North Carolina’s policy to allow sixth-grade participation in sports, except for football, and Orange County Schools are allowing sixth-grade participation beginning next school year. Durham Public Schoosl and Person County Schools have already begun sixth-grade participation.

Scarlett Steinert, CHCCS director of healthful living and athletics, told the school board Monay night that those school systems needed more athletes to fill out teams, but all CHCCS middle schools except Phillips have full teams in all offered sports.

Board members Rani Dasi, Andrew Davidson and Joal Broun voted in favor of the staff’s recommendation to keep middle-school sports restricted to seventh- and eighth-graders. Members Pat Heinrich and Margaret Samuels voted against the recommendation. Chairman James Barrett and member Annetta Stokes Streater were absent from the meeting.

The board considered delaying a vote after hearing from community members who wanted the change, but a vote to table the matter until a July 21 meeting failed, with only board members Heinrich and Samuels voting to table the decision.

Higher grades

Dasi, who led the meeting in Barrett’s absence, initially denied a community member’s request to speak, but then allowed public comment because the board had not heard any public comment when it previously took up the matter in a work session.

Kyle Clements, who has a sixth-grader and fourth-grader in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, pointed out that the materials the system presented with the online agenda Monday said students who participate in athletics have higher average grade point averages than non-athletes.

“The data right there suggests simply adding this opportunity increases grades,” he said. “Why should sixth-graders be left out?”

Larry Mangum, who also has a sixth-grader and fourth-grader, said participation in sports helps the minority community by providing role models and giving students a reason to keep grades up in order to join and remain on a team.

Steinert countered that adding sixth-graders would decrease chances for some minority seventh- and eighth-graders.


Superintendent Pamela Baldwin said the GPA argument ignores the transition difficulties, and Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Services Rydell Harrison pointed out that it doesn’t take into account the requirements for athletes to meet academic standards to participate.

“It’s not a comparison of apples to apples when it comes to athletes versus non-athletes because you already have to meet those guidelines,” Harrison said.

In presenting the staff’s recommendation to keep the ban, Steinert cited the difficulties of the transition from elementary school to middle school that sixth-graders already face, the added expense, the size differences between sixth-graders and older students, and that allowing sixth-graders on teams would mean more cuts of seventh- and eighth-graders. The change particularly would affect teams such as track and cross-country, she said, that traditionally haven’t had cuts. The addition of sixth-graders would grow those teams to a point that would require cuts.

Samuels initially expressed support for keeping sports restricted to seventh- and eighth-graders because of the importance of giving all students the ability to participate in at least one sport during their middle school years, but changed her mind after hearing from supporters of allowing sixth-graders.

Davidson said he didn’t want the last opinions the board heard on the matter to be the deciding factor.

“If we had unlimited resources we’d have the sixth-graders,” Broun said, “but we don’t have unlimited resources.”

Dasi echoed Broun’s thoughts: “When I look at the constraints we have, I’d rather put it into the classroom.”

Broun said she would like the board to revisit the matter to consider allowing sixth-graders to participate in one spring sport, probably track and field, after they’d had a semester to deal with the transition to middle school, but that possibility was not part of the resolution the board passed. The earliest sixth-graders could be incorporated into a spring sport would be the 2018-19 school year.

Board members also expressed a desire to work with Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation to provide more sports opportunities for sixth-graders.

“I can certainly have that conversation,” Steinert said.

Matt Goad: 919-536-8549

What do you think?

Shoud sixth-graders play middle-school sports? Tell us what you think at for possible publication in a future issue.