High school sports will soon open to all ninth graders

Staff writerApril 16, 2014 

When football season kicks off this fall, ninth-graders will have an equal opportunity to go for a touchdown at the high school level.

On April 7, the Puyallup School District Board of Directors unanimously approved moving ahead on a plan to provide equal access for all ninth-grade boys and girls to all levels of high school sports — not a select few, as had been done for many years.

At the school board meeting, Chief Equity and Achievement Officer Gerald Denman read a list of high school sports that are not offered to ninth-graders: girls cross-country, boys wrestling, girls and boys basketball, football and girls soccer.

“We are here to bring us into alignment with other districts in our region and our state,” Denman said. “My comments tonight will be focused on equity.”

In a directive by the Puyallup School Board and Superintendent Tim Yeomans, an athletic reconfiguration task force was formed last spring to address the inequities and how those would be corrected in terms of transportation, facilities, school culture at the junior high level and equipment.

According to Rick Wells, the district’s athletic director, Puyallup School District is the only district in the Interstate 5 corridor not aligned with a ninth-12th grade athletic configuration. All the other school districts in the 4A South Puget Sound League follow that configuration.

For the past year, the school board-appointed task force, which included 10 secondary athletic directors, had 10 meetings and gathered comments at six community forums. Wells said the task force surveyed other districts successful in this configuration.

“We have done a lot of listening and have brought in a lot of input in what we’ve designed,” Wells said.

Implementing the change in the 2014-2015 school year will require some financial commitment and some adjustment to school start and dismissal times and transportation. Transportation, for example, will require $158,000 per year, according to district estimates.

Other associated costs include uniforms and equipment at a one-time cost of $180,000 and an estimated $20,000 a year increase in pay for coaches who are working longer seasons, according to The News Tribune.

In regards to facility use, Wells said plenty of flexibility exists for ninth-grade football, boys and girls soccer, and boys and girls basketball.

“With the advent of the new Rogers (High School) field, there would be no need for Rogers’ teams to use Sparks for soccer and football practices,” Wells said.

Varsity and junior varsity soccer and junior varsity football would all be able to do contests and practices on the new Rogers field. From Rogers, only varsity football games would still be played at Sparks, according to Wells.

Board member Kathy Yang said this reconfiguration is an important step in giving students equal access.

“It gives me great comfort that this can work and it does work,” Yang said.

Board member Pat Donovan approved the plan because he said it will go a long way in retaining students in the Puyallup School District who otherwise might leave for a district with a ninth-grade interscholastic program.

Board President Chris Ihrig said this reconfiguration plan plays a part in improving the transition ninth-graders make from junior high to high school.

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