By Christopher Smith
Too many students on a team can be a problem, but not at Valley Point Middle School and Eastbrook Middle School. Those schools will not have seventh-grade girls basketball teams this year because of low numbers.
One possible way to allow those schools to have teams was offered at the Whitfield Board of Education meeting Monday night. Stan Stewart, assistant principal for Westside Middle School, asked board members to support the creation of a varsity/junior varsity (JV) system for football and basketball teams in county middle schools. He was speaking on behalf of middle school principals.
He did not get the approval he wanted.
“To do this would turn (middle school sports) into a more competitive environment,” board Chairman Louis Fordham said. “Do we want the same climate in middle school that we have in high school where it is all about performance and playing the best kids?”
The schools do not need board approval to redesign the way players are chosen for the teams, said Superintendent Danny Hayes, but the board members can issue a policy if they want to get involved.
No policy was issued, but the spoken position of board members was still enough to stop any changes at this time.
“We don’t have the board’s support,” said Stewart. “We’re not going to do it. I will give (Valley Point and Eastside) a call and tell them that they don’t have (seventh-grade girls basketball) teams this year because they do not have enough kids.”
Currently, the schools must use players by grade. The proposed system would have allowed schools to pick players regardless of grade and place them on varsity and junior varsity (JV) teams depending on how well they perform in tryouts.
“The JV league would allow students who normally sit on the bench and hardly ever play to have a chance,” Stewart said. “If there aren’t enough students at tryouts for the first team, coaches can pull from seventh or sixth grade.”
Softball teams in the county school system are created from all grades, Stewart said, who used the 2012 Northwest Whitfield Lady Bruins as an example of how the system works. The board recognized the team with a highway road sign for its Georgia High School Association Class 4A state title.
“The team showed a clear demonstration of athletics,” Fordham said. “It is abundantly proper to call these students champions.”
That’s exactly what the road sign does, reading “Home of the Lady Bruins 2012 4A Softball Champions.” Board members want to put the sign on I-75 near a Dalton exit but are waiting on approval from Department of Transportation officials.
John Thomas, a former board member and volunteer at Pleasant Grove Elementary, said the state championship does not justify the proposed system he believes is “basically a farm system.”
“You can call it junior varsity or varsity but that’s what it is,” Thomas said. “I’ve already gotten calls on this from parents. It’s not going to be pretty if you decide to create this system.”
Fordham said he is also concerned parents would not like the change.
“I would appreciate it if you engaged parents,” Fordham said. “At least let them hear the conversation. The other thing is — if we’ve exhausted all efforts to participate — I would feel better. I just don’t think we have.”
The school system would not be the first to make the change, Stewart said.
“If you look at Walker County and Catoosa County, they’ve already done this,” said Stewart. “We’re one of the few schools that break down teams according to the grades. This has been discussed for 10 years here. We’ve looked for an option to let eighth-graders have another chance, while letting seventh-graders have two years experience on a strong team.”