AHSAA should lower age of participants

Published 10:48 am Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dear Editor,

The time has come that the eligibility parameters for AHSAA sports need to be addressed.

In non-contact sports like cross-country, track, tennis, swimming and golf, we should lower the eligibility age of potential participants.

Expanded access would grow these sports, increase participation and improve lifelong health outcomes with an earlier introduction to more sports than just exclusive peewee football leagues and expensive club soccer programs.

If we allowed Alabama kids access to the organized sports mentioned above, it would arguably help address several potential problem areas in society and specifically Alabama: teenage obesity, teenage delinquency, teenage smoking rates, teenage pregnancy and drug abuse in school-aged children.

Louisiana has recently seen a fifth-grade girl become a cross-country and track LHSAA state champion.

Louisiana also has seen a fourth-grade girl become a silver medalist in gymnastics.

Tiger Woods famously played high school golf as an elementary student in California.

Professional golfer J.B. Holmes also got an early start in golf by playing high school golf in Kentucky in the third grade.

Florida allows middle school students to participate in cross country running.

Tennessee and Georgia also allow sixth-graders to run.

One of the most disconcerting sights for any Alabama cross country spectator, coach or parent is attending the Jesse Owens Invitational cross country meet each October and seeing sixth-grade runners from Tennessee and sometimes Georgia participate in the middle school division, while Alabama sixth-graders sit at home in front of the TV.

As a start, I would suggest that we at least petition for access to middle school meets for kids in sixth grade and under.

Let the current rules stand, which restrict access to state meets to seventh-graders and older, if that makes people more comfortable with the idea, but let the kids join a team, participate and play.