Issues such as transportation and school dismissal times will play a part, but it looks like sixth-graders will be welcome to participate in sports at Elkhart Community Schools junior high schools in the near future.
“We want to offer as many opportunities for our boys and girls as we can,” said Dr. Robert Woods, ECS athletic coordinator. “Everybody is in favor of (sixth-grade participation).
“I totally sympathize with the coaches that want to get it done.”
While sixth-graders will not be allowed on seventh-grade- or eighth-grade-only “team” sports in the Big 11 Conference, they will be able to participate in the more “individual” sports of wrestling, cross country, swimming and golf. There is no designation of seventh or eighth grade for those squads.
Sixth-grade participation is something that already happens at most Big 11 schools where sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders are under one roof, thereby eliminating many transportation concerns.
At Concord, where sixth-graders are at the intermediate school, athletes either walk or are bused to the junior high.
As it now stands, Elkhart sixth-graders are housed at 14 elementary schools with seventh- and eighth-graders at three junior highs (North Side, Pierre Moran, West Side).
With no bus route from the elementary schools in place, Elkhart sixth-graders have to find their own way to junior high practices and contests. If the loop bus system is still in place, they may be able to catch a ride from the junior high to those stops.
While a major factor, Woods does not see the ability to get back and forth as a deal breaker.
“I don’t know of anyone that never participated because of transportation,” said Woods.
Count Gary McAllister, ECS elementary athletic director for 32 years, as a fan of allowing sixth-graders to participate in sports not among the nine currently offered in Elkhart grade schools.
“We’ve got so many elementary athletes,” said McAllister, who counted around 1,600 participants in 2011-12. “If there are alternatives for them, i.e. wrestling, that’s got to be a good thing for them.
“It’s a win-win. It helps the middle school program and it gets the basketball numbers down.”
At present, Elkhart elementary boys basketball and junior high wrestling take place at the same time — January, February and early March. With a no-cut policy, many grade schools have A, B and C squads in attempt to keep kids involved.
For off-campus games, elementary schools carpool to other schools in the corporation.
Bart Rice, NorthWood athletic director and co-Big 11 commissioner with Goshen’s Sue Egli, notes that allowing sixth-graders could take away lineup spots from seventh- or eighth-graders.
“It’s always a two-edged sword,” said Rice. “There’s give and take in everything.”
Long-time West Side athletic director Steve Greenlee said that putting the average sixth-grader against the average eighth-grader often creates quite a physical mismatch.
Elkhart junior high principals Kristie Stutsman (West Side) and Matt Werbiansky (Pierre Moran) support the change.
“Anytime you can involve kids and build your programs, that’s a good thing,” said Stutsman. “I want them to participate in as much as they can and experience multiple things.”
Werbiansky said details and logistics will have to be worked out, but it is a positive.
“We think it’s a good thing,” said Werbiansky. “It contributes to the strength of the feeder program.”
Elkhart elementary to junior high
Majority of students go to ...
Beardsley, Eastwood, Feeser, Hawthorne, Osolo, Pinewood to North Side.
Beck, Bristol, Monger, Riverview, Roosevelt to Pierre Moran.
Cleveland, Daly, Woodland to West Side.
Elkhart junior high to high school
Majority of students go to ...
North Side to Central and Memorial at about a 50/50 split.
Pierre Moran to Central.
West Side to Memorial.
Big 11 Conference
Concord, Discovery (Penn), Goshen, Grissom (Penn), John Young (Mishawaka), North Side (Elkhart), Northridge, NorthWood, Pierre Moran (Elkhart), Schmucker (Penn), West Side (Elkhart).
Junior High vs. Middle School
Junior high is a school with grades 7-8.
Middle school is a school with grades 6-7-8.
Big 11 junior highs are Concord, John Young, North Side, Pierre Moran and West Side.
Discovery, Goshen, Grissom, Northridge, NorthWood, Schmucker are middle schools.