The Columbia County school board on Wednesday formed a committee to study middle school sports.
Composed mostly of school administrators and athletic directors, the 11-member committee is charged with reviewing player development, season schedules, sports that can better be served through the recreation department, whether junior varsity programs are needed, and whether eighth-graders should be allowed to play on high school junior varsity teams.
Leading the committee will be Greenbrier and Evans high schools' athletic directors, Garrett Black and Kevin Kenny, respectively. Also on it are Michael Johnson, principal of Evans Middle School; Sharon Carson, principal of Greenbrier Middle; George Berry, athletic director of Harlem Middle; Dave Pitock, athletic director of Lakeside Middle; Todd Booker, athletic director of Grovetown High; Adam Fulford, athletic director of Harlem High; and Donnie Burch, athletic director of Lakeside High.
Others include Charlie Beale, manager of the Columbia County Recreation Department, and local sports radio talk show host and Columbia County News-Times columnist Ashley Brown.
Superintendent Charles Nagle said the committee is loaded with high school athletic directors because middle school athletics is meant to prepare students for high school sports.
Though board members discussed adding others to the committee, Nagle persuaded them to keep it small.
"At this point, I'd just like to have a small group of professionals take a look at what's going on and come back with some recommendations," Nagle said. "Later on, we can open it up to the public more."
In May, the school board considered cutting such programs as track, junior varsity softball, junior varsity baseball, soccer, golf and tennis from middle schools as a cost-saving measure. The board decided, though, to hold off on eliminating any sports, for at least this school year, until a study of the programs was undertaken.
"It's not a money issue," Black said. "It's something where (we) want to examine middle school sports programs and make it the best situation for our kids in this county."
Nagle said he does not expect the committee to recommend eliminating any programs.
"If we take (a middle school sports program) out, we want an explanation of how we can provide these services," he said.
Replacing those services might prove difficult, said Beale.
Like the school system, Beale said, county government also has had to endure cutbacks.
The budget for his department was cut by 5 percent this fiscal year.
"All indications are that we're going to be cut again next year," Beale said. "That's not a good sign as far as us adding programs."
If the school system provides fields and athletic equipment, and volunteer coaches step forward, Beale said, a partnership between the recreation department and the school system might offer an alternative to cutting some programs.
The committee likely will start meeting Sept. 1. School board members said they would like a preliminary report of its progress within two months, before discussions start on next school year's budget.
Also at the meeting, the board hired Mary Bridges as the new assistant principal at Martinez Elementary School.
Bridges, the wife of board member Wayne Bridges, who abstained from voting, was a fifth-grade teacher at Riverside Elementary.
"It took a lot of prayer," Bridges said of accepting the promotion. "Leaving the 24 kids (in her classroom) is going to be tough."
Initial enrollment figures also were reported to the board on Wednesday.
Thus far, the school system's pupil population is 23,155, 130 fewer than projected. Still, that is about 330 more than last school year, Nagle told the board.
Schools at each level with the largest enrollments are Cedar Ridge Elementary at 935 pupils, Evans Middle at 885 pupils and Evans High at 1,808, according to system figures.
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