Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

October 15, 2012

Task force studies governing of middle school athletes

FRANKFORT — A task force established by the General Assembly to review middle school athletics began Monday reviewing more than 50 recommendations from its individual members, most of them concerning student-athlete safety and coaches’ requirements.

Those will be whittled down and compiled into a draft of final recommendations by task force co-chairs Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, and Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, which the task force will then amend or vote up or down at its Nov. 26 meeting.

The task force was authorized by legislation sponsored by Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, and passed by the 2012 General Assembly following requests from groups like the Kentucky Middle School Football Association and others.

Currently individual school districts govern the administration of middle school athletics although the Kentucky High School Athletic Association has statutory authority to govern interscholastic athletics down to the sixth grade level. But with a staff of 13 — four of which are administrative support positions — responsible for oversight of 280 member high schools, the KHSAA has never sought authority from the Kentucky Board of Education to govern middle school athletics.

KHSAA has an annual budget of about $3.5 million and none of it comes from the state General Fund. About $300,000 comes from high school membership dues and nearly all of that goes to purchase catastrophic insurance for high school athletes. It takes in about $1.5 million from the annual high school basketball tournaments and the rest comes in the form of ticket sales to championship events and corporate sponsorships.

Julian Tackett, KHSAA commissioner and a member of the task force, said the organization and the Kentucky Board of Education to which it reports have previously looked at extending its oversight to middle schools but school districts thought it too expensive to pay the additional dues.

Essentially non-profit, volunteer groups like the Middle School Football Association want protection from liability concerns and standards for training coaches in best practices and athlete safety.

Former coach and Somerset Superintendent Wilson Sears, a member of the task force, asked the group to include some sort of restriction on the number of games athletes can play in a given period of time.

“We must give some attention to the number of games and the frequency of games in which some of these students are participating,” Sears said.

He cited the example of an extraordinarily gifted female 6th-grade student in Somerset who played on the 6th-, 7th-, and 8th-graded teams and was clearly the best player on all three teams. He said she sometimes played four or five games a week until the district instituted a “one-jersey” rule which limited athletes to playing for only one team per week.

While several members of the task force, including Tackett and Greg Mitchell of the middle school football association, cautioned against creating another layer of administration and added costs, Rollins said some system to monitor middle school sports is needed.

“We need some sort of oversight over middle school athletes, especially as it relates to safety and health of the athletes,” Rollins said.

Among the preliminary recommendations are that middle school athletes have physical exams before participating; that middle schools adhere to the same heat index restrictions as high schools; schools should insure adequate medical coverage for athletes; implement limits on practice and games per week; allow younger athletes to “play up,” or compete at a higher grade level, but not remain eligible for lower grade competition when they do play up; and require coaching training in CPR and concussion recognition and meet minimal qualifications.

None of the recommendations are final and even those approved by the task force in November will have to be implemented either in statute by the General Assembly or approved by the state Board of Education.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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