Middle School Sponsored Sports Will Help Prepare Athletes for High School


Middle school athlete chases the competition.

Christian Carr-Locke

  A 2014 Boys Cross-Country class meet championship. A 2013 Field Hockey State Champion.  The 2008 Super Bowl. The list goes on and on. Walpole High School sports teams clearly stand out statewide because of their success. Yet, how do Walpole middle school sports teams place in the state?

  Easy answer: They don’t.  

Middle school athlete chases the competition.
A Walpole Middle School athlete chases the competition at a North Attleboro Meet.  This program is currently set up through Walpole Recreation Department, not the school (Photo/ Jess Giffen).

  Out of the twelve towns that are part of the Bay State Conference, seven have middle school sponsored sports: Wellesley, Dedham, Natick, Milton, Weymouth, Needham, and Framingham — Walpole does not. The middle schools of these towns compete with one another just as all the twelve schools in the Bay State do at the high school level.

  Before high school, athletes are restricted to recreational town and club leagues.  When they transition to high school, the former recreation stars find themselves on the bench, and — for the first time — the jersey that athletes wear signifies more than a sports team, rather, a representation of the school.   

  Ronald Dowd —  Walpole’s new athletic director — is well aware of the benefits of establishing a middle school sports program in the years to follow.

“Having to be somewhere every single day at a certain time, it’s certainly a large transition for eighth graders going into ninth grade. By starting school sponsored sports in the eighth grade, they get accustomed to it and it gives them a sense of responsibility,” said Dowd. If students are already used to rigorous daily practices when they enter the high school, coaches can worry less about wasting practice time. 

   Coaches can transition the focus from the win-loss record towards improving athletes’ skill level, playing time, and overall inclusiveness. Through a program that recognizes the importance of including athletes, regardless of ability, athletes can progress in unison and carry that improvement on into high school.

When asked why Walpole hasn’t followed the precedent of other towns in the Bay State, Mr. Dowd explained that the amount of fields in the town restricts the availability of playing time to teams.

  “High school teams are using middle school fields as it is,” said Mr. Dowd. With so few fields, Walpole sports teams have limited time for practice.

  Mr. Dowd will certainly have his hands full next year as he adjusts to the role of athletic director, but amidst his many responsibilities, he does plan to implement a middle school sponsored track program for the 2016-2017 school year.

  If  Walpole does not want to have to play catch-up with other towns, the middle schools, in cooperation with the town, need to take action in regard to making middle school sports an integral part of the middle school experience.

  Young athletes are being deprived of the ability to better prepare themselves for the seriousness of sports in high school. Whether the town has to construct new athletic facilities or find a way to implement such a program with the limited time slots of the existing fields and facilities in mind, the town of Walpole should support Mr. Dowd in establishing interscholastic sports at the middle school level.

  Although Walpole Public Schools’ budget lacks the finances for middle school sports, that insufficiency could change if middle school athletes were charged user fees similar to high school student athletes.  As Mr. Dowd undertakes his role as Walpole’s new Athletic Director, he plans to modernize signups for school sports by moving them online.  With that modernization, Mr. Dowd should look to expand middle school sports that are self-sufficient through user fees.  While the middle schools may only add one sport per year in the near future, the community should support this expansion for the improved development of athletes and coaches.