High School Sports

Task force recommends changes for middle school sports in Kentucky

FRANKFORT — A legislative-led task force unveiled a host of preliminary recommendations Monday to tighten oversight of middle school athletics in Kentucky.

Concerns about safety and health of middle school athletes as well as the confusing rules that apply to middle school sports programs prompted the legislature to establish the task force earlier this year.

High school sports in the state are governed by the policies and bylaws of the Kentucky High School Athletics Association, but there is no similar organization for middle school athletics. Instead, local school boards make their own rules about middle school athletics. Over the years, private citizens have established non-profit organizations to establish playoffs and championships in some areas of the state for specific middle school sports, such as football and wrestling.

The task force said the Kentucky Board of Education, which has the sole authority to set regulations for school sports programs, should take a fresh look at how middle school athletics are governed and determine whether the current system should be replaced with an association similar to KHSAA.

Preliminary recommendations made by the Task Force on Interscholastic Athletics at the Middle School Level include:

■ Requiring all middle school athletics teams to follow existing high school rules related to physical exams, medical coverage, concussions and practicing during extreme heat.

■ Developing limits on the number of allowable contests during the school year.

■ Exploring options to ensure student athletes, coaches, schools and school boards have adequate insurance for athletic events.

■ Requiring the tracking of injury and incident reports for all interscholastic sports activities.

■ Adopting statewide eligibility rules to include age restrictions for athletes and restrictions for participation on high school teams by athletes enrolled below grade nine.

■ Requiring all middle school coaches, paraprofessionals and volunteers to meet existing certification requirements, pass a criminal background check and complete all training required by the KHSAA for high school coaches.

Kevin Brown, general counsel for the education department and a task force member, said the board will be briefed on the recommendations next week and could take up some of its proposals as early as February.

Over the past five months, the 17-member panel of legislators, citizens, educators and coaches has been studying other states that have middle school athletic associations.

Wilson Sears, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents and a task force member, said Monday's recommendations represent "real progress."

The issue of how to regulate and oversee middle school athletics has been discussed for decades in Kentucky. In 1993, a task force recommended that the KHSAA expand its scope to include middle school athletics but that was never done because of finances and lack of manpower.

KHSAA could now handle oversight of health and safety rules in middle school athletics with its current staff, said Julian Tackett, commissioner of the KHSAA and a task force member.

Middle school coaches are already required to receive training in first aid and concussion recognition, but no one ensures that the training is completed.

Middle school athletics has remained without an umbrella organization for a variety of reasons, but mostly because Kentuckians prefer decisions to be made at the local level, Tackett said.

Tackett said the Kentucky Board of Education had established its own task force to study the issue after receiving a letter from medical professionals expressing concerns about the health and safety of middle school athletes. That task force was suspended when the legislature established the current task force.

"I think they will be very receptive to these recommendations," Tackett said.