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07-15-14: Plans in place to serve ninth graders in high school sports
07-15-14: Plans in place to serve ninth graders in high school sports
Posted on 07/14/2014

For years the Puyallup School District has allowed ninth-grade athletes a chance to compete on high school athletic teams in some, but not all, sports.


Ninth-grade boys could play on high school soccer teams, for example, while girls in the same grade were restricted to competing on junior high teams.


Similarly, ninth-grade girls could join high school wrestling teams, but their male classmates were only allowed to compete at the junior high level.


These inequities will be resolved this fall when ninth graders are invited for the first time to compete in every sport offered at Emerald Ridge, Puyallup, and Rogers high schools.


The school board agreed a year ago to allow ninth graders to play in all high school sports, effective with the start of the 2014-15 athletic season. Directors also appointed a team of junior high and high school athletic coordinators to develop a plan of how to implement the change.


The task force has been meeting ever since and held a series of public forums last fall and spring to invite suggestions from the community before submitting its recommendations to the school board in April.


The board approved the recommendations, which address logistics such as uniforms, transportation, an introduction of high school “C teams,” and a first-ever junior high intramural sports program.




One of the key requests from community members who attended the 9-12 athletic reconfiguration public forums was to provide ninth graders with after-school transportation to high school athletics.


The board agreed to transport ninth-grade athletes to after-school practices or games at all three comprehensive high schools.


Buses that have historically gone to high schools empty after school to pick up students leaving campus will now stop first at junior highs to pick up ninth graders who need to be transported to high schools for athletics.


“This is much more efficient and cost effective than having an empty bus traveling from one place to another,” said Rick Wells, director of athletics, health, and fitness. Wells headed up the 9-12 athletic reconfiguration task force along with Chief Equity and Achievement Officer Gerald Denman.


Bell schedules are also being adjusted districtwide to accommodate a series of instructional program changes. Those changes, in turn, will also support the 9-12 athletic reconfiguration.


Junior high students will start and end school earlier beginning in September, while high school students will begin and end the school day later. This will give ample time for ninth-grade athletes to get to the high schools on time after school for practices or games, Wells said.


Leveling the playing field


The new 9-12 athletic configuration will, for the first time, give ninth graders a chance to compete in high school football, volleyball, basketball, girls cross country, girls soccer, track, and boys wrestling.


“The decision was based on a fundamental mandate to provide equity for ninth graders within the district in terms of high school athletic opportunities,” Wells said.


As in past years, ninth graders will continue to be invited to compete at the high school level in baseball, softball, tennis, bowling, gymnastics, girls wrestling, water polo, swimming and diving, boys cross country, boys soccer, and golf.


The change brings Puyallup in line with all other school districts that offer a 9-12 athletic configuration in the South Puget Sound League (SPSL) South Division.

Puyallup has been the only school district along the Interstate 5 corridor from Oregon to Canada without a 9-12 athletic structure, Wells said.


The school board also agreed to a onetime purchase of additional high school athletic uniforms and equipment to accommodate incoming ninth graders, as well as clothing and related equipment suitable for junior high sports teams.


“C teams” and intramural sports


High school “C teams” will be created in football, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls basketball, and volleyball.


The teams will be another option for athletic participation for athletes, including those who do not qualify for junior varsity and varsity sports, Wells said.


The C teams will play other C teams in the SPSL South Division and focus on basic developmental skills in each sport, Wells said.


“These types of teams are often used for developing young athletes, similar to how farm teams are used in professional baseball,” Wells said.


At the junior highs, eighth-grade athletic programs will become the new “varsity” teams, and seventh-grade sports teams will become a more traditional junior varsity competitive program, Wells said.


Both the varsity and junior varsity teams will compete against other junior high schools in the Puyallup School District and be called the “Puyallup Athletic League,” Wells said.


Students in grades seven through nine who don’t play on junior varsity or varsity teams can choose to participate in a new intramural sports program in volleyball and girls and boys basketball. Teams will be created at each junior high and compete against each other at that school.