Middle school athletics would be costly and difficult to configure, but School Board members see a need for the offerings and, will explore options to establish teams at the district’s 18 middle schools.
During a Curriculum and Instruction committee meeting on Tuesday, district athletic supervisor Derek Farrey presented board members with the potential costs and facilities configurations to bring athletics to middle schools at various scales. Currently, high schools offer five sports during each season, and costs a total of $14.9 million a year to operate. Board member Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge) suggested exploring offering at least few sports for middle schoolers, if a large high school-like sports program isn’t possible.
The athletics department looked at the middle school program offered by Prince William County, since neither Fairfax nor Arlington offer athletics until high school.
The biggest challenge of implementing athletics in middles schools is infrastructure. All middle school building have gymnasiums to facilitate basketball and volleyball programs. But, the outdoor facilities of schools vary greatly throughout the district. Every middle school has a baseball-softball backstop, but not all have a usable field with dugouts and fencing. Additionally, most of the schools don’t have a regulation size football field to accommodate other sports such as soccer, lacrosse, and field hockey. Field maintenance already costs the district about $700,00 each year.
High school facilities have perimeter fencing, allowing schools to raise funds from spectator admission, which offsets some of the expenses. Without that kind of infrastructure, middle school sports wouldn’t generate revenue from fans.
And, assuming a full-fledged athletics schedule, the district would have to use public parks and facilities operated by the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation. The presentation pointed out that the additional school programs would likely adversely impact the scheduling of recreational programs already offered by the county.
Serotkin said he thinks some of those programs are necessitated by the lack of athletics offerings from schools.
“I think its worth noting that some of those leagues exist because we don’t have middle school sports programs in LCPS. The demand is definitely there, private organizations and parks and rec have figured out jerry-rigged solutions,” Serotkin said. “The fact that yes it might have some impact. … I think the community is doing those things anyway as a run around us, because we don’t have the programs.”
Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Ashley Ellis said another challenge would be staffing coaching positions, as there is already a shortage of coaches at the high school level.
The Virginia High School League requires school districts contribute about six dollars per student athlete for catastrophic insurance coverage, and that all sports are attended by an athletic trainer. While there is no official middle school sports league, the school district would need a similar insurance policy. Staffing athletic trainings for all sports at the middle school level would cost $1,694,000 annually.
The possibility of middle school athletics was discussed by the board in February 2020. Serotkin requested that scaled-back versions of the athletics offerings be explored, and then presented to the full board.