District to allow sixth-graders to compete in all sports

Alexis Barker, NLJ News Editor

Alexis Barker

NLJ News Editor


Sixth-graders at Newcastle Middle School will now be able to participate in all middle school sports, starting this spring season with track and soccer,  following a vote by the Weston County School District No. 1 board of trustees on Feb. 23. Previously, the youngest grade level at the school was allowed to participate in three sports, cross-country, track and wrestling. 

The decision to open athlete participation to all grade levels, according to Principal Tyler Bartlett, is driven by the desire to do what is best for the students, as well as increase interest in school sports. 

“I’d say with every decision we make, we’re trying to do what we think is best for kids. I think above all else, we hope that allowing sixth graders to participate in all sports helps make their middle school experience that much more enjoyable and beneficial,” Bartlett told the News Letter Journal. “In my time at the middle school, we’ve generally seen that students who are involved in a variety of extracurricular activities are also the ones that do better academically and behaviorally in the classroom, so hopefully this sets up our future sixth graders for even more success.” 

Sixth graders must learn to negotiate a new school, which can be a challenge, Bartlett said, but sixth graders who have participated in various sports in the past proved that it can be done. 

“None of the extracurricular activities we offer are required, so each child and their family can make their own decision about participating based on what they think is best,” Bartlett said. 

In addition, allowing sixth graders to participate in school sports will hopefully allow for a better experience for all students and athletes who can now, hopefully, count on more stable participation numbers, he said. 

“Over the past several years, we’ve seen the number of participants decrease in a variety of sports and in most communities,” Bartlett said. “The schools in our athletics district (Upton, Moorcroft, Sundance, Wright and Hulett), have allowed sixth graders to participate in sports for some time now. The same is true for South Dakota schools like Custer and Lead-Deadwood.” 

“So, in some ways, we’re just now following suit with surrounding communities. By allowing sixth graders into our programs, we’re also potentially easing the burden on club and rec teams that usually must be run by parent volunteers,” he continued. “And of course, this also will hopefully help build cohesion and continuity in our athletics programs grades 6-12.” 

There will be some initial cost for additional equipment, supplies and coaches, but Bartlett said that it should be negligible in the grand scheme of things. Carrie Manders, the district’s activities director, told the trustees on Feb. 23 that she estimated $10,000 would be needed to prepare the sports for additional players. 

“Perhaps the biggest concern might be that we’ll need more coaches and more officials, so we’re hoping interested adults will contact the school to learn more about officiating or coaching opportunities at the middle school,” Bartlett said. “Our coaches, teachers, students and parents will have to navigate this change together. We’ll start seeing what it looks like this spring, and we’ll do the best we can to provide a great experience to anyone who is interested. There will certainly be a learning curve, but we’ll try to anticipate potential challenges and learn from the mistakes we make along the way.”

Any middle school parents with questions, ideas or concerns are encouraged to reach out to Bartlett at the school directly, as is anyone interested in becoming a coach or official for any of the sports offered at the school.

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