By RONNIE ELLIS / CNHI News Service
A task force on middle school athletics wants the Kentucky Board of Education to develop a system to monitor middle school athletics and ensure middle school coaches and athletes are subject to the same health and safety requirements as high school athletes.
The task force, co-chaired by Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, and Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, with four lawmakers and representatives of the state board and athletic associations, will list several recommendations in its final report, all of which shift responsibility to the state board.
But that doesn’t mean the task force “punted,” said Wilson Sears, the director of the Kentucky Association of School Administrators who worked in seven different school districts during his career which included positions as coach and superintendent.
“I think it’s a real step forward,” said Sears after Monday’s meeting. “Considering the fact that high school athletics are governed by the state, I think it’s time we take a look at middle school athletics and take the proper steps to ensure they’re competing in a safe environment.”
While the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA) governs high school sports, middle school sports are largely left to individual schools and school districts.
The KHSAA actually has the statutory authority to oversee middle school sports but does not presently have the staff or resources to do that, according to KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett, a member of the task force.
But that could change if the state board follows through on some task force recommendations.
Kevin Brown, a deputy commissioner for KBE and also a member of the task force, said Monday the state board will be briefed on the recommendations at its December meeting and would be prepared to ask for legislation by February — if any is needed.
“The vast majority of these recommendations would not require statutory action,” Tackett said.
Tackett said the state board and KHSAA had convened its own task force to study middle school athletics in response to concerns from schools, parents and coaches and the state medical association but suspended that effort when the General Assembly passed a joint resolution to create its own task force.
One of the legislature’s task force recommendations was to reconvene that group and continue studying the issues of middle school athletics, which vary widely between districts. Many are operated through non-profit organizations which the task force thinks needs oversight.
Other recommendations are:
—Require such non-profit groups to report injuries, meet insurance requirements, determine eligibility for participation;
—Require middle school athletic teams to follow KHSAA rules related to physical examinations, medical coverage, heat index and concussions;
—The KBE should determine limitations on the number of contests during the school year in each middle school sport; such a limitation could be waived to allow for a post-season championship event;
—KBE should explore ways to ensure athletes, coaches, schools and school boards provide adequate accident and injury insurance;
—KBE should track injuries and incidents at middle school sporting events;
—KBE should consider adopting statewide eligibility rules which should include any restrictions on participation in high school sports;
—KBE should require middle school coaches, including volunteers and paraprofessionals, to meet existing certification and background checks and complete all training required by KHSAA for high school coaches.
Tackett said training opportunities for coaches already exists but KHSAA does not monitor which middle school coaches have had training as it does with high school coaches.
He said the health and safety concerns were primarily the reason KHSAA and the state board wanted to be involved in the task force and he thinks the recommendations are narrow enough to pose a first step to monitoring middle school athletics.
“I think (the state board) will be receptive to these recommendations because they were the ones who first called for us to put the task force together,” Tackett said.
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.