MIAC reverses Rule 53 decision Vote means middle-schoolers can continue to compete on high school teams

Last modified: 11/22/2015 10:08:34 PM
The masses spoke, and the MIAC listened.

In a somewhat surprising decision, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Council on Friday voted 10-1 to reverse MIAA Rule 53 — allowing middle school students to participate on high school teams.

Thus, all single-principal schools that include students in grades 7-12 can continue to use middle school athletes without a waiver, and those with two principals can use students if they seek a waiver — essentially a formality since such virtually every waiver is granted.

“I give the council credit and I respect them for understanding that they didn’t have all the facts when they took their first vote, and after discovering all the facts, changing their decision, which we’re all happy for,” said Frontier Regional School athletic director Marty Sanderson, who was the biggest advocate to argue against the rule change, and helped organize a group of Western Mass. athletic directors to attend the Thursday’s MIAC meeting.

Sanderson said there were two major factors going in their favor when trying to show the MIAC it wasn’t seeing the full picture — the vast difference in the enrollment of schools in the west, and the fact that participation numbers would drop precipitously.

Sanderson added that, in his opinion, the MIAC originally voted to change Rule 53 for the wrong reason.

“The bigger schools using the notion that we get a competitive edge by using middle schoolers was ridiculous,” said Sanderson. “This was never a competitive edge issue. Some schools have as many as 1,500 to 2,000 students in grades 9-12, where a school like ours has only 600 from grades 7-12.

“If they kept (Rule 53), we would have had lost 60 athletes between track and cross country alone — that’s 1/10th of our student body,” continued Sanderson. What it came down to was that they didn’t understand the impact it would have on 7-12 schools. There’s no state association that should ever vote in a rule that takes athletes off the field.”

Sanderson was grateful to the MIAC for making the effort to make the best decision based on the facts.

“This would have made a huge impact, not just at our school, but other schools as well,” he said. “If they want to talk about educational athletics, these kids are there every day practicing and learning.”

Longtime Turners Falls High School softball and boys’ basketball coach Gary Mullins was pleased to head the news.

“(Turners) would be crippled without the use of middle school students,” said the former Indians AD. “We have continued over the years to apply for waivers in an attempt to keep our junior varsity teams functioning. The new rule would have impacted several surrounding schools, and without middle school participation, most of the JV teams would be affected to the point of becoming non-existent.

“It would also affect varsity teams if we could not use eight graders,” added Mullins. “I am aware that Marty and some other folks went to the MIAA to speak on this restrictive rule and it appears their words fell on the right ears. My thanks go out those who went and helped give us a chance to compete at the JV level and help allow the building process of trying to produce competitive varsity teams.”

Athol High School athletic director Dave King, who is president of the MIAA’s board of directors, applauded the MIAC’s decision.

“The result of (Thursday’s) vote to reverse the decision speaks to what our association is all about,” he said. “We are an organization run by school officials who try to do what is best for student athletes. Not all of our schools are exactly the same, and some of our rules affect us differently. In the end, when school leaders follow the correct process to advocate for their student athletes, our association is built to allow for changes to be made.

“The school leaders from (grades) 7-12 schools made a compelling presentation that brought additional awareness of how the new rule would negatively affect student athletes. With that, the MIAC decided to repeal their previous decision,” added King.


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