Kentucky task force will examine lack of oversight for middle school sports

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comMay 28, 2012 

Later this year, a new task force that includes lawmakers, educators and athletic officials will study the lack of regulation of middle school sports and offer recommendations for the 2013 General Assembly.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association oversees high school athletics, including coach education, health and safety rules, and regulations over play. But there is no such oversight for middle school sports.

The 2012 General Assembly passed a resolution that requires a Legislative Research Commission task force to discuss "best practice" guidelines for middle school sports and to take into consideration non-profit organizations that oversee some individual teams.

"It remains to be seen" what the task force could recommend, said Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, sponsor of the resolution. But Damron said "in the long run that's probably a good direction to have one entity standing for middle school athletics."

Last August, KHSAA director Julian Tackett suggested to the Kentucky Board of Education that a study group look at "setting some minimum requirements" for middle school athletics.

Tackett, according to the minutes, "said that the high school association is not trying to take over anything."

But he said the lack of health and safety requirements for middle school athletics was putting students in jeopardy.

In February, an ad hoc committee's interim report to the board raised the question of whether KHSAA or some other organization should supervise middle school athletics.

KHSAA spokesman Elden May said that committee suspended its work pending the new LRC task force's report. A KHSAA representative will be on the task force.

Some middle school sport teams have joined non-profit organizations that enforce a common set of rules.

The legislative resolution mentions the Kentucky Middle School Football Association and Kentucky Wrestling Association.

Jason Moore, president of the Kentucky Wrestling Association, said that group has 80 middle school teams and clubs. Moore is coach at Campbell County Middle School.

Association members follow rules of the KHSAA or USA Wrestling, a national governing body, he said.

Moore said he would be open to an organization to oversee all middle school sports as long as it had adequate resources to continue the close monitoring that his organization now provides.

More than 150 teams belong to the Kentucky Middle School Football Association, said president Greg Mitchell, a Lexington lawyer who volunteers to coach Catholic middle school students.

The football association has a state playoff system, an East-West all-star classic and a state cheer competition, he said. Mitchell said the organization provides an opportunity for Kentucky youngsters to play in national events and teaches the importance of hard work and dedication. It also establishes basic rules of play for football, including age limitations, he said.

Mitchell wants the task force to address consistent rules for middle school athletics and training for middle school coaches, many of whom are volunteers.

A new law requires interscholastic coaches, including middle school coaches, to complete training on recognizing and treating concussions and head injuries.

Mitchell said the task force would look at the length of playing seasons, expanded opportunities for middle school athletics and recognition of the importance of athletic participation to the development of young adults.

Mitchell said non-profit organizations could draw on existing resources.

"We are not asking for financial support but to discuss ways that everyone can work together with available resources to improve middle school athletics," he said.

Public schools across the state, including Jefferson County, have joined the Kentucky Middle School Football Association. But Fayette County schools have not. Lisa Deffendall, a spokeswoman for Fayette County Public Schools, said the district adopted its own guidelines for middle schools, developed by principals, coaches and athletic directors.

Deffendall said Fayette officials "would certainly be interested in being a part of the discussions and study as this issue moves forward."

As for the KHSAA, Tackett said, "Certainly if any such study concludes that an organization is needed to oversee middle school athletics, at whatever level of complexity, and it is ... financially feasible, there is no more qualified entity than the KHSAA to assume this role."

The LRC will name task force members by Aug. 1. The task force must make its recommendations to legislative committees by Dec. 7.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.

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