BY LOUISE R. SHAW
Clipper Staff Writer
FARMINGTON — At a workshop on Tuesday, Davis School Board members took a good, hard look at ninth graders “playing up” to high school teams.
Though the discussion began with a recent request to allow one ninth-grade student to play for a high school team outside the boundaries of the high school he would normally attend, it quickly escalated to include the value of ninth graders playing on high school teams at all.
Current district policy does not promote the participation of ninth graders in high school programs, but it is allowed.
In most cases, ninth grade students are only allowed to participate with the high school within whose boundaries they live.
Two exceptions are outlined in the policy: one to accommodate the children of district employees in negotiated agreements, and another for students enrolled in an International Baccalaureat program that would feed into a high school that offered IB.
Because his ninth-grade son is among a minority of Farmington Junior High students who would go to Davis High while a larger percentage go to Viewmont, Steve Young approached the board on March 5 about adding an exception for students in his son’s situation.
The new policy would allow ninth grade students to participate in sports at the school where the majority of their classmates are assigned to attend.
After a district committee reviewed the request, John Robison, health lifestyles director for the district, said the decision was unanimous that it is better to allow no exceptions rather than open the door to grant more.
Several coaches and athletic directors from area high schools addressed the board about the ramifications of increasing the number of exceptions.
“I’m a real advocate for the junior high program,” said Jay Welk, athletic director and head basketball coach at Davis High.
“The integrity of the program is at risk here,” he said, and if students are allowed to go to schools that aren’t boundary schools, intra-school recruiting would become a problem.
Davis School District is unique in Utah in its policy that ninth graders can only play for high schools in his or her boundary areas.
“We’ve been told, ‘you’re the last beacon in the state’” said Robison. “We believe every high school deserves to have an equal playingfield.”
There is a polarization between schools in the Salt Lake Valley, where dynasties are taking place because competitive programs start with young students and continue as they all attend the same high schools, said Robison. Leaders in the Utah High School Activities Association “have looked at our policy and they like what we’re doing because it equals the playing field,” Robison told the Clipper.
Peter Cannon, a board member, took exception to limiting transfers.
“In America we are great because we are competitive and we should bring up to play those that will win,” he said. “People say, ‘Let’s be fair, let’s let everybody play.’ That’s not the American way.”
Kathie Bone, also a board member, expressed an opposite view:
“There is a place for recruiting, for building the teams,” said Bone, “but it is beyond high school. In high school we need to give everyone a chance.”
Two policies were placed before the board for consideration. One added the exception requested by Young, the other withdrew all exceptions, including those previously included.
During the discussion, Richard Swanson, principal at Sunset Junior High and a former coach at Clearfield and other schools, said allowing transfers takes away from the strength of a junior high program and the friendships that develop by competing for your boundary school.
Players that move to high school while in ninth grade may take away from the opportunities of high school students, said Larry Smith, a school board member.
In other cases, sports that require large teams might not have enough students unless they include ninth graders, said Dave Hoch, athletic director at Northridge.
Experience has shown there is plenty of time to establish their prowess in a sport during their 10th, 11th and 12th grade years, said Burke Larsen, a board member.
“I’m proud of Davis School District for sticking by our principles,” said Young after the workshop. “If getting rid of all the exceptions makes the most sense, I’m completely understanding of that.”
The proposals will come before the board at its next meeting, April 16, for further consideration and a first reading.