Copyright 2013 Richmond Newspapers, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)
November 4, 2013 Monday
METRO; Pg. B-01
|Youth sports waivers sought;
Chesterfield leagues' rules on residence split some classmates
Chesterfield County youth sports leagues are resisting pressure from parents and government officials to make a change to their rules to allow elementary school students to play alongside their classmates.
A few parents of students who attend schools outside their home district have publicly questioned why their children are being barred from playing on teams that, while independent from the school system, are strongly associated with the schools. Their complaints prompted the Chesterfield School Board to write a letter asking for a rules change.
About 1,500 elementary school students attend schools outside of the district in which they live, in many cases to make after-school child care more convenient for parents. Each of those students receives a waiver from the school system. Sports leagues, which often use school districts as boundaries, have a separate requirement for a student to receive a waiver to play on a team outside his or her home district.
The denial of those sports waivers meant that 8-year-old Zachary Johns and 7-year-old Justin Beavers Jr. couldn't play on a team with their friends this year because they attend a school outside their home district. Parents of both children say they weren't the only students denied a chance to play with classmates, and they were never given a reason why their request was denied.
Bernie Johns, Zachary's mother, said she understands that the original intent of the sports rule was to prevent teams from being stacked with all the best players. But, she said, it shouldn't apply to children like Zachary who are just trying to play for the team associated with their school. At Grange Hall, where Zachary is a third-grader, decorations around the school promote the team and on Fridays during football season boys wear their jerseys to school.
The School Board agreed with Johns and other parents but has no authority over the sports leagues.
"At the high school level, the Virginia High School League recognizes and provides opportunities for students on approved waivers to play for the school they attend," the letter signed by School Board Chairman David S. Wyman states. "Chesterfield's youth sports association programs should take a similar approach in support of our students and their families."
The leagues, which are run independently from the county government, have balked at the suggestion.
The Chesterfield Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission will hear a report about whether the county should get involved in the waivers issue from its athletic committee at its regular meeting Thursday night. The chairman of that committee, Bob Terrell, said it's too soon to recommend any changes.
Terrell said the county has mostly avoided running the leagues, and the leagues want that hands-off policy to continue. Many games are played on county-owned fields, so the county does have leverage to impose some rules, such as the mandate that all coaches pass background checks.
"There's two sides to it," Terrell said. "Some of (the associations) almost have to hold on to every kid they have in their area to compete."
Other times, Terrell said, teams will skirt the rules to get a competitive advantage, making some associations wary of granting any children waivers. Children living outside Chesterfield have been caught playing in the Chesterfield Quarterback League in the past, he said.
Robert Pugh, commissioner of the Chesterfield Quarterback League, which Zachary and Justin attempted to play in, said Friday that he was too busy at work to discuss the matter.
Some coaches side with Zachary and Justin and agree the rule should be changed.
Matt Cullather, a coach in the Gates district that denied Zachary's request for a waiver, attended a Board of Supervisors meeting last month with Bernie Johns to ask the county to step in and change the rule. He said many of his fellow coaches feel the way he does.
"We don't feel as parents and coaches ... that a grown man who's supposed to be a role model in the community should look at a child and tell them that they can't play the game of football with their classmates," Cullather said. "These kids go to school on Fridays with their jerseys, wearing them proud, and you're sticking out like a sore thumb wearing the opposing team's jersey."
The Board of Supervisors took no action on the request. Supervisor James M. "Jim" Holland, a former athletic association president, said he doesn't necessarily want the board to get involved, but he would like to see the problem resolved.
"Let's be fair, not stack teams, but let the children play," Holland said. "It's not about the coaches. It's not about the president or the board. It's about allowing the children to play equitably in a fair way."
Copyright © 2013, The Richmond Times-Dispatch and may not be republished without permission. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
November 5, 2013