CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Kanawha County Board of Education might consider a new sports policy for middle schools that would make coaches even out playing time across all students in uniform, regardless of athletic performance.
School board member Becky Jordon said she's heard pushback since she proposed the policy at a board meeting earlier this week, which, if passed, would prevent middle school student-athletes from spending too much time on the bench.
However, Jordon says the sixth- through eighth-grade is a fragile time for students, and some coaches are too hard on young athletes. That can be detrimental to their future success, she said.
"I think this has been misunderstood. Yes, there are a lot of young athletes that work really hard, and they deserve the right to play more. I just feel like it needs to be fair. I'm not saying take the superstars out of the game, but you know what? Give everyone a chance," she said. "We have some coaches that don't always treat everyone fair, . . . and often times there are hurt feelings."
Jordon, who's had four children participate in Kanawha County school sports, said she has heard concerns from parents who fear that an "everyone gets a trophy" type of policy would lead to repercussions in the real world, but she says there are also real-world implications for benching young athletes.
"I can promise that, if a kid sits on that bench all through middle school, they will not attempt to be engaged in high school. We know the kids that are most involved are the most successful," she said. "It's not just about bullying. It's an awkward age. There isn't a person that can say middle school was a great time. If we can make a minimal step to make kids feel better about themselves, we should."
But Scott Canada, football coach at South Charleston Middle School, said it's not only ability and work ethic that goes into deciding who should play the game. It's also a safety issue.
"I can't jeopardize the safety of one student for another. I'm not going to compromise a 70-pound sixth-grader's welfare just to get them on the field if they're not prepared or ready to play," Canada said. "I try to play as many of my student athletes as possible, but there are times people don't get to play. Whether or not that's fair, I have to give an opportunity to those students who are at practice every day, who work the hardest and who are dedicated."
Canada said that, for the most part, more upperclassmen play middle school sports because sixth-graders often are still eligible for youth leagues, where the games are less competitive.
"Those leagues are developmental. Those students are typically given an opportunity to play, no matter what. Middle school is not a place for that," he said. "I'm not going to do that. I just refuse to do it."
Kelly Geddis, assistant executive director of the state Secondary School Activities Commission, said no other school districts in West Virginia have a policy concerning playing time.