Board expresses concerns over middle school athletics

ASHEBORO — The Randolph County Schools Board of Education met Thursday, June 29, with primarily discussions and presentations on the agenda.

The board was given an update on the status of the Randolph Virtual Academy following the decision to emphasize endorsing the school rather than closing it.

“Since May 1, enrollment has continued to grow,” said Superintendent Stephen Gainey. “On May 10, it had grown to 59, and it has continued to grow since. [On] May 17, it went to 70. May 24, to 83. June 4, to 86, and the last enrollment number I have for this week is June 27. We have grown to 94 students, and the number of students who will be new to the school next year continues to grow as well. We are up to 45.7% of those 94 students being new to that school next year.

“Obviously, there’s been some big changes in the growth from 35 students since May 10. In 2021-22, there were four in-person activities on the campus. We were still dealing with a lot of pandemic restrictions then. For 2022-23, that number increased to six. The staff is working to further increase those in-person events as well.”

Gainey discussed that even though it’s a virtual academy, the staff believes that an increase in the availability of in-person events can only help the school grow and continue to build that school’s culture.

“We’re in a very different position than we were on May 15,” Gainey said. “There’s still a lot of work to do, and we’ll continue to work at it. We’ll continue working to promote it.”

The enrollment deadline for the Randolph Virtual Academy is August 1.

The board was also presented with the quarterly student assignment report, which showed that as of June 9, there were 15,227 students enrolled in RCS.

Also in the report was the fact that RCS has a net loss of 18 students between releases to other school systems of students within RCS’ attendance zone and additions to their school systems from outside attendance zones.

“When we started down this road with this report and the student assignment rules were put in place in 2014-15, in the first quarter of 14-15, we had a difference of 153 students,” Gainey said. “So, it’s been pulled in. It’s taken a while, but we’ve worked with people that have been released and tried to work with them.”

Finally, the board discussed some of the growing concerns with middle school athletics involving discrepancies in team size and overall consistency of participation.

“High school athletics are governed by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. Middle school athletics are governed by the Department of Public Instruction,” Gainey said. “There are a lot of similarities. Right now, we have our seven middle schools, two from Asheboro City Schools and Uwharrie Charter Middle School, that gives us a 10-team conference.”

According to Gainey, rules from the NCDPI dictate that all middle school sports other than football can play up to 14 games plus a single-elimination tournament or 16 games overall. For football, teams are allowed to play in seven games plus a tournament or eight games overall.

“We will talk to the leadership of the other school system because that comprises their representation in the conference, to share our concerns about the teams and how we’ve had some situations where we’ve had low participation and either our teams didn’t participate or played with the low numbers, and we want to talk about our concern with the longevity of this conference should it continue,” Gainey informed the board. “I think that we need to talk to the conference members about if we get to the point where we know a team is not going to be fielded, we don’t want our kids missing play dates any more than we want their kids missing play dates. If it means playing somebody three times, then sure, because that’s really what middle school athletics is about. More than winning. I get they want to win and win championships, but you need kids at that level playing.”

The Randolph County Schools Board of Education will next meet July 17.

By Ryan Henkel, North State Journal