Middle school proposal shot down during FHSAA board meeting

Item sought to make varsity sports only open to 9th-12th grade students

Middle school proposal shot down during FHSAA board meeting
Middle school proposal shot down during FHSAA board meeting

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The final board of directors meeting in the most unusual year in Florida High School Athletic Association history wrapped up over three long hours Tuesday morning, with several big visibility items coming into focus as high school sports enters its summer break.

A proposal to bar middle schoolers from playing on varsity high school teams was shot down by the FHSAA board of directors, while two other emerging sports also found resolutions that will boost female sports in the state.

The first one — middle school athletes can still play varsity sports on high school teams.

The proposal was put on the agenda for a vote by Merritt Island athletic director Jeff McLean. It sought to keep sixth, seventh and eighth graders off of varsity rosters and only permit them to play on junior varsity until they reached ninth grade.

“First of all, I know this is a very controversial issue. There’s people that don’t care either way, there’s people that it doesn’t affect,” McLean said. “There’s people that are adamant against it, there’s people who are adamant for it. This isn’t a knee-jerk reaction, this is from 25-30 years of being an athletic director.”

While it was set to be voted on by the board, it didn’t make it to a vote and was essentially sent back for more discussion in committee meetings.

It was a contentious topic, for sure, but one that will emerge again. Executive director George Tomyn said that more conversation about the topic will occur in the future to address concerns about allowing students in middle school to compete on varsity high school teams. It is a routine occurrence at private and smaller public schools that start in sixth and seventh grade.

“There was some very good discussion today and some very good questions, and fortunately, this is not a life-or death, building-is-not-on-fire issue right now,” Tomyn said. “So, were going to continue that right now and we’ll vet it properly throughout all the advisory committees we have in our association.”

Board member Bobby Johns said that eliminating the option for middle schoolers to play varsity would have unintended consequences across the board and would likely lead to significant scrutiny from the state. Issues do exist, especially at schools that offer sixth, seventh and eighth grade. Those schools can offer opportunities for younger students to play varsity sports, while many, many others can’t.

“I think we’ve got to find a way in the middle somewhere to look at this problem and not create this problem,” Johns said.

“You’re talking about unlevel playing versus not even being able to field teams. That’s a devastating thought if we were to go that direction.”

Two other interesting items on the agenda found semi-resolutions on Tuesday.

Beach volleyball will have a state series tournament beginning in the 2021-22 school year. A total of 81 teams played the sport in 2020 and 77 played this year, according to the FHSAA. Justin Harrison said that the most recent data showed that 170 schools would commit to competing in state series beach volleyball, more than double the numbers from this year.

The most spirited debate of the meeting centered around girls wrestling and that sport getting its own state series tournament. In a 9-2 vote, it was pushed back for more discussion at the board meeting in September. There are several sticking points.

Will there be enough girls wrestlers in the state to fill both the duals and individual bracket tournament fields? If only an individual tournament (IBT) is created, which was Tuesday’s action item, would the FHSAA fall out of compliance with federal Title IX laws? Board president Lauren Otero said that highlighting girls sports is a priority and cited an instance of the NCAA’s very public failure at the women’s basketball tournament as a reason to not rush a decision on girls wrestling.

Johns said that the topic has been stuck for three years now and deserved a resolution. It will come, but likely not until September.

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