MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Talent trumps age when it comes to certain sports.
That’s why parents in the Anoka-Hennepin School District say seventh and eighth graders should be allowed to try out for varsity teams.
District policy says athletes in sports like cross country can’t compete at varsity unless they are in grades nine through 12.
Parents say changing the district’s policy could help schools land more state championships.
“My daughter is Sydney Paulson, she’s in seventh grade, and she is a cross country runner for Anoka,” said father Brandon Paulson.
Sydney Paulson is currently on the Anoka Senior High School’s Junior Varsity team.
“Her times show that she’s a varsity runner,” Brandon Paulson said. “Women runners, they develop a little bit earlier, so they are some of the best in the state when they are in seventh and eighth grade.”
The Minnesota State High School League says eligibility for high school varsity athletes is grades seven through 12.
“Everywhere else except our district, it’s happening. Everywhere else,” Brandon Paulson said.
Brandon Paulson says he sees the district’s decision to do otherwise as age discrimination, something he has voiced to the school board.
“They want to look into the matter more, which they’ve had a lot of time to look into,” Brandon Paulson said.
Since there has been no action taken by the school board, the parents have filed complaints with both the U.S. Department of Education and the ACLU. It’ll likely take months before they hear whether the school’s policy is declared unlawful or not.
“So, generally in a large school, there are a lot of students competing for very few spots,” said Mary Olson with the Anoka-Hennepin District.
They are spots the district says should be reserved for high school-aged athletes only. For some, they say, it could be their last opportunity.
“The board doesn’t believe that winning is absolutely the ultimate, but that students should have an opportunity to have a good experience,” Olson said.
Some parents beg to differ, putting performance before participation.
“The Anoka-Hennepin School Board I don’t think understands that teaching these kids to be competitors; that’s great for life,” Brandon Paulson said.
The board says it decided middle school students could play up in certain sports, such as wrestling.
Two things go into making that decision: the number of players available, and the safety of the students.
For example, the district says, the difference in size of seventh graders and seniors could pose a problem in football.