Board considers revisions to play-up policy

Staff Writer
Since 2013, I have primarily covered the Anoka-Hennepin and Spring Lake Park school districts as well as the city of Spring Lake Park for ABC Newspapers.

The Anoka-Hennepin School Board will consider changes to the seventh- and eighth-grade acceleration policy later this month after a first reading of the policy Aug. 28.

“The updates are being proposed to make the policy easier for people to understand and to give guidance to the Play-Up Committee in order to continue to make consistent play-up decisions,” said Todd Protivinsky, principal on special assignment.

Proposed policy changes reflect the current practice of the Play-Up Committee, which has developed a rubric to provide “consistent and objective implementation” of the policy, according to board briefing notes.

The policy’s core tenants are unchanged: Though the Minnesota State High School League allows seventh- and eighth-grade athletes to compete at the varsity level, District 11 reserves spots on high school sports teams for high school athletes with few exceptions.

“Since opportunities at the high schools are limited, it is important that high school students have priority; middle school students will eventually have the same opportunities when they enter high school,” proposed policy language reads.

The Play-Up Committee evaluates requests with various athletic teams falling into one of three categories.

Currently, baseball, boys and girls basketball, dance team, football, boys golf, boys hockey, boys lacrosse and volleyball are category one activities, which only allow seventh- and eighth-grade athletes to participate if participation drops to a level that calls the viability of the activity into question.

Proposed revisions do not allow seventh- and eighth-grade participation in baseball, boys basketball, football, boys hockey, boys lacrosse and volleyball, unless low participation impacts viability. With the possible exception of boys hockey goalies, “acceleration requests for varsity play will not be considered for category one activities since they lack any objective measure to guarantee consistent application across the school district,” proposed policy language reads.

As of now, girls golf, boys and girls soccer and softball are category two activities, meaning seventh- and eighth-graders can play-up at the lowest level of high school competition to make a team viable.

Proposed policy language defines category two sports similarly and lists girls basketball, dance, girls hockey, girls lacrosse, boys and girls soccer and softball. With the possible exception of girls hockey goalies and softball pitchers, no middle school athletes will be allowed on varsity teams.

Category three sports currently include adapted athletics, Alpine skiing, cross country running, gymnastics, girls hockey, girls lacrosse, Nordic skiing, boys and girls swimming, boys and girls tennis, track and wrestling. Middle school athletes may participate as long as they don’t bump high school athletes.

Revised policy lists Alpine skiing, cross country running, boys and girls golf, gymnastics, Nordic skiing, boys and girls swimming, boys and girls tennis, track and wrestling as category three activities. Middle school athletes participating in such activities may play on varsity teams in limited circumstances.

Proposed policy changes allow for activity directors to approve or deny seventh- and eighth-grade students’ requests to play on high school adapted athletic teams and the lowest four weights of wrestling at any level of play without Play-Up Committee approval.

The policy was last changed in 2015 to have a minimum of two School Board members, rather than three, sit on the committee considering play-up requests with activity directors from each of the district’s five traditional high schools and a principal, as assigned by the superintendent.

During the 2016-2017 school year, 396 middles school students were allowed to play on high school teams. Of those, 75 were permitted to play on varsity teams, all in individual sports, according to Protivinsky.

“This is just a refinement of our policy to match the procedures, to provide clarity to parents so they understood how we’re applying the policy,” Board Member Marci Anderson said. “It’s supporting this board’s philosophy that high school sports are for high school students, but there are occasions when play-up makes sense for all of our students. … We’re not sacrificing competing at a high level.”

[email protected]