Mar 04, 2014 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
The Cazenovia board of education last week held another lengthy discussion about the district’s “selection classification” athletic policy. This time, while previous arguments both for and against the policy were often repeated, new ideas on how to refine the program also were generated and the board agreed to form a task force to study and ultimately amend the official policy.
At issue is the wording, as well as the use, of the policy as currently worded in the extracurricular handbook, which states that “students, teachers, coaches or parents/guardians may request the athletic administrator to process a student through the Selection Classification screening procedure. Any seventh or eighth grade student, who wishes to participate on a high school sponsored interscholastic team, needs to apply to be a candidate for this process in writing at least four-weeks prior to the start date for the specific sport they are hoping to play.” The current Cazenovia policy requires that potential program participants fill out an application, write an essay and undergo a physical and emotional maturity exams.
The board discussed the issue at its Jan. 26 regular monthly meeting based primarily on the use of the program last year, during which six eighth grade basketball players — four boys and two girls — were advanced through the program. Some board members decried the situation as not only against the intent of the policy but also implausible that six players in one year could meet the level of truly “elite” or “exceptional” athletes as the policy intends.
This has been the crux of the discussions about the district’s selection classification policy over the past two months: whether the policy’s wording is incorrect, the definition of an “exceptional” athlete is being misapplied and/or misinterpreted to move too many players up and if the policy is even simply unfair to older students who may lose playing time to younger students moved up to higher levels. Some school board members charged in January that the BOE changed the policy last year but the changes were not implemented in the athletic program this year — whether purposefully or not — which has compounded the importance of addressing the issue even more.
“It’s a very difficult program to manage because of the subjective nature in which a prospective student-athlete ultimately is judged,” said district Athletic Director Michael Byrnes. “One coach says a student is ‘exceptional’ and another coach says the student is ‘really good.’ … Some coaches on my staff have made the hard decision over the years and cut this prospective student, while others opted to keep the student in the place of an older aged student. Usually, one way or the other, somebody gets upset in the process.”
On the other side of the debate, board member Karin Marris said she feels the board has already defined the policy and how it should be administered, but Byrnes, as the athletic director and ultimately in charge of the program, has not administered it sufficiently. “We need an administrator who can say no to parents and coaches [when they want to advance an athlete],” she said.
Byrnes was tasked by the board in January to study the policy more closely and come back to them in February with some ideas or recommendations. He told the board he had conducted a coach survey during the past month, and the results showed in general that while the majority of district coaches liked the program, they had a “mixed reaction” as to how it was used by their fellow coaches.
High school indoor girls track and girls cross country coach Kurt Wheeler, who spoke during the board’s public comment period, urged the board to keep the program, saying they should not punish every coach for the transgressions of the few who may not use the selection classification program as it is intended. He said that during his 18 years and 50 athletic seasons in Cazenovia, the majority of coaches use the program appropriately.
Wheeler also said that all of the recent discussions on this program have been about team sports, but absent from those discussions have been individual sports like running or tennis where “no one is harmed” by bringing up players. As an example, he said he has an eighth grade runner coming up next year that may turn out to be the “best runner in school history,” and to not allow her the opportunity to move up to junior varsity or varsity through selection classification would be a disservice to her.
“Don’t take a tool away from those of us who try to use this responsibly,” he said.
Byrnes said that also missing from the discussion, in his view, was there is a “different level of ‘exceptionality’” needed for an eighth grader aspiring to play a junior varsity sport versus one aspiring to play a varsity sport. “I feel that members on the other side of this debate about Selection Classification have too narrow of a view of what it means to be ‘exceptional.’ There are different levels of exceptionality, not just one level,” he said.
Different board members had differing opinions on what the definition of an “exceptional” athlete was, but the general consensus voiced by the board during the discussion was that an “elite” athlete was a phenomenon that would appear in the Cazenovia district probably only once or twice a year, at most.
“Better is not exceptional,” board President Pat Vogl said, to which other members of the board agreed. Member Cindy Bell Tobey, referring back to the six basketball players advanced last year, said that to think six players all in the same sport were truly exceptional was simply “hard to believe.”
District resident Aaron Gifford, who spoke during the board’s public comment period, suggested that the board create a task force comprised of various stakeholders to consider revising the program so it is easier to administer. He said that to undertake “sweeping changes” without looking at the effects of every sport individually would be “irresponsible.”
Board member Jan Woodworth liked Gifford’s idea and asked the rest of the board whether they should consider creating some kind of committee to study the issue and help write tighter, more specific guidelines for the program. Member Karin Marris said there was no precedent for the board to take such an action, while Vogl said there should be a committee comprised of Byrnes, school board members, coaches and parents whose goal would be to consider and revise the policy.
Byrnes said after the meeting that he was in favor of the creation of a task force. He said that potentially having an agreed upon “measurement tool” that helps the coaches, parents, administrators and students quantify exceptionality in a seventh or eighth grade athlete such as a task force might create, “would be great … Right now the process involves a lot of subjective decision making.”
The board ultimately agreed to form a task force to study and refine the selection classification policy, with members Marris, Lisa Lounsbury and Kathy Hahn representing the school board.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.