WIAA denies Federal Way’s proposal to let sixth-graders play middle school sports

If the Federal Way school district had its way, sixth-graders would be eligible to play sports at the city’s middle schools.

But that decision isn’t up to Federal Way. The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) Representative Assembly failed to pass an amendment that would have made sixth-graders eligible to play all middle school sports statewide, according to Currently, students can’t compete on varsity or junior varsity teams at the middle-school level until they are seventh-graders.

To pass, each amendment needs a 60-percent majority approval from the Representative Assembly, according to the WIAA.

The sixth-grade amendment was proposed by Federal Way Public Schools because participation in the district middle schools has been waning, especially on the female side. The number of girls turning out for sports is dwindling in Federal Way. The fastpitch programs are losing numbers fast, officials say.

According to the proposed amendment presented by Federal Way, without the ability to recruit sixth-graders, “we are in serious danger of losing our middle level fastpitch program over the next two years due to lack of participation, which will, no doubt, have a huge impact on our high school feeders.”

The loss of fastpitch in Federal Way would create a big problem, in terms of the district’s Title IX numbers. The district would have to find a replacement female sport to go along with the current middle school facilities.

The Federal Way district has been pushing for the inclusion of sixth-graders at the middle-school level for several years, according to Vince Blauser, the district’s executive director of secondary schools.

Federal Way was allowed to have sixth-graders participate in school-sponsored athletics about a decade ago as part of a pilot program by the WIAA. But that program lasted only three years before being shut down by the WIAA, prompting the district to push for the new sixth-grade amendment.

“It has proven a very successful way to get our sixth-graders involved in our sports programs, their school and community,” the district stated in their amendment. “It has helped build the middle-level sport programs over the three years the athletes have been enrolled, and had a huge impact on enrollment numbers and the quality of athletic programs when it was not renewed several years ago. Participation numbers have decreased every year since we have dropped sixth grade.”

Organizers were hoping the new rules for sixth-grade participation would have created excitement, which would carry over into the high school programs.

The Federal Way school district has a free and reduced lunch rate of 56.4 percent and is a pay-to-play district. In this most recent school year, “athletic scholarships have disappeared and families have had to come up with the funds on their own, thus reducing the pool our schools can pull from to create teams,” Federal Way officials wrote. “The more athletes that are available for us to draw from, the better chances our sport programs have to survive.”

Some schools within the district are more affected by poverty than others and have been trending toward lower turnout numbers over the last three years, they said.

“Many of our sixth-grade athletes are competitive enough to be on (junior varsity) and varsity teams in our middle schools. By only allowing them to play with other sixth-graders, we are holding them back athletically, especially in the sports of gymnastics, basketball, baseball and fastpitch softball.”

The con that seemed to sway the WIAA Representative Assembly was the fact that a skilled sixth-grader could be taking the spot of a seventh- or eighth-grader on a junior varsity or varsity team.

There has been talk within Federal Way of moving the middle school athletic programs away from the governance of the WIAA, according to Blauser. It’s something that the Tacoma School District did before last school year.

Tacoma allows sixth- through eighth-graders to participate in an athletic program similar to high school. Its schools feature a varsity, junior varsity and C-team, and the only cost for a student-athlete is a $15 ASB fee.

The new middle school sports program is funded by the sale of advertising on district sports scoreboards and rebates from certain vendors that do business with Tacoma Public Schools.

“We are losing a lot of numbers at the middle school level,” Blauser said. “So we will see.”

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