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Shifting seasons in middle school athletics
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Updated: 11/01/2012 08:00:05AM

Shifting seasons in middle school athletics

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Larry Jewett

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A few weeks ago, we introduced you to the Bartow Middle School girls’ basketball team. Last night, the season ended for the varsity and junior varsity, but it wasn’t the end of BMS athletics. It was just the opening to a new beginning.

For the second grading period, there will be two teams representing the school and this time, the boys are getting in on the action.

Last night was opening night for the Bartow Middle School boys’ basketball team, which hosted Mulberry Middle School at Union Academy. Tomorrow night, the girls’ volleyball team will open play by taking on Lake Gibson Middle School on the road. The girls will come to the Union Academy gym for their first home game next week (Nov. 8). Boys basketball games are Tuesdays and girls volleyball games are Thursdays.

After being introduced to the girls basketball team in late September, we started to find out more information about the new program, only to find out it isn’t really new, but new to BMS.

Kathleen Wright is senior coordinator of the K-12 Physical education programs for Polk County Schools. Essentially, she is also the athletic director for the middle school extracurricular programs, working in conjunction with Polk County athletic director Don Bridges.

“This has been going on for about four years,” said Wright about the athletic program. “In some cases, the schools were kind of doing it on their own. The principals would get together and organize it among each other. About three years ago, we decided to kind of rein that in because there were some inconsistencies developing and that wasn’t good for the health and well being of the activity. By having schedules of activities come from one central place helps keep it to the point where everyone knows what is going on.”

Word spread of the opportunities that existed for the schools and there were more takers. That’s where Bartow Middle School comes into the picture. With the start of the new school year, the new administration, led by principal Angela Gordon, took a pro-active approach to creating a learning environment that broadened the horizons of the students. By giving them more opportunities to succeed, you usually get more successes and there are many ways an athletic program can boost self esteem, school spirit and a sense of community, elements that any school can use to find benefit.

With a positive program such as this, there are those realities of making it happen. While it sounds great, it costs money and where is the money going to come from? Last time anyone looked, the school district wasn’t sitting on a big pile of unallocated resources.

“The program has to be self-sustaining,” said Wright. “Gate fees are what keeps it going. There is simply no funding at all. The district pays for the officials and transportation costs, but the rest of the costs like uniforms or coaches’ compensation has to come from the teams.”

Bartow Middle School raises money by selling refreshments and holding spirit nights. Zaxby’s hosted a spirit night earlier this month. On Nov. 6, Beef O’Brady’s will be donating proceeds to benefit the Bartow Middle School athletic program. Other fundraising events are planned, but that just gets into another area where hope is high and resources are short – time.

“This can only be successful if the right people get involved in moving it forward,” said Wright. “At many of the schools, the principals will look at the staff and find the assets that are there for these programs. You need to have sports-minded individuals on the staff who are willing to take on the responsibility to teach and coach and sacrifice their precious little time to work in making a difference for these young people.”

For Bartow Middle School, it didn’t take long to find some key personnel. Amy Scheloske is a former athletic director who is now the Bartow Middle School dean of students. Scheloske is quick to credit Gordon, but equally as quick to find the benefit in getting Bartow Middle involved.

“When we were having boys’ basketball tryouts, we had 100 boys show up,” Scheloske said. “They want it and they are showing that by becoming involved. It’s unfortunate that not everyone can be a part of it.

“These students are at a critical point in their lives. They are at the position where they can choose their path. If they didn’t have a program like this, it wouldn’t be a choice and some of the other choices are not very good for them. It’s a choice for our staff, too. They want to do this for the kids. It’s pretty much voluntary. They have to want to participate in it or they won’t.”

For Scheloske, it’s a chance to give the BMS students something she had growing up.

“I have been an athlete. I was fortunate enough to have continued my education because of athletics. I try to give back and let the students see that it can be done because I did it. I was able to do it because somebody gave their time and effort to help me and this is a way of giving back. This community has been wonderful of its support and you can see it in the positive attitude that these programs are bringing to the kids.”

In order to be a part of the athletics, students have to have a minimum of 2.0 in the previous grading period and that rule is inflexible. The opportunity for athletics is translating into a new outlook on the study side of things.

The third nine weeks will offer girls and boys soccer. The final grading period of the year will feature girls and boys track, tennis and golf. Some students may find more than one opportunity throughout the year.

Wright said 18 schools are participating in some level since each school chooses which sports they would like to play. “Those schools have found themselves having a greater connection with the corresponding high school athletic programs,” said Wright.

“The high school coaches are paying attention and looking for their stars of tomorrow. It gives the students and the program some relevancy as they focus on eligibility, behavior and attendance, which are also part of the criteria. It’s coming together and building community.”