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Carroll Board of Education allows all students to start playing fall, spring sports regardless of grades

Matt Miller, an English teacher and varsity football coach at Winters Mill High School, told Carroll County Board of Education members he’s concerned students who have fallen behind academically this year will not have an opportunity to participate in athletics during the next school year.

“I don’t know what the perfect solution is,” he said, adding that he hoped a resolution could be reached so students have a chance to play next school year. Board members then voted unanimously Wednesday night to grant all students eligibility to participate in fall and spring season sports this school year.

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However, students who would have been ineligible must have passing grades by the interim marking period. And the new measure only applies to this school year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused school systems to rearrange their sports seasons. Carroll athletes are finishing winter sports this week before beginning fall sports Saturday and finishing the year with spring sports in April, with all seasons in abbreviated forms.

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The board voted to start the winter sports season Dec. 7 during a Nov. 11 meeting and also voted for the second-quarter grades, distributed Feb. 9, to determine eligibility for the fall sports season. At the time, students had to maintain a 2.0 grade-point average and have no failing grades.

First-quarter grades later revealed a high volume of F’s were given, and CCPS staff wanted to give the board a chance to reevaluate for the fall and spring sports played between February and June. They were presented with four options:

  • Maintain the current standard;
  • Require students to be earning passing grades in all classes with no GPA requirement;
  • Allow all students to be eligible at the start of the seasons but require passing grades midway through; or
  • Grant eligibility to all students.

With fall sports beginning Saturday, Miller said an “inordinate” number of students applied for restrictive eligibility, which is a contract signed off by the athletic director and principal that allows students to participate in practice until grades improve. Students have only one chance to use it throughout their high school careers.

“And that’s something that never happens in our program,” Miller said. “Very rarely do we help ineligible students.”

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Board member Ken Kiler said he liked the third option.

“It seemed unfair to make them be held to the original standard,” he said.

Board President Marsha Herbert said she wants to go back to the original standard next school year but suggested making all students eligible for the fall and spring sports seasons to be fair to all athletes.

“I don’t think it’s fair to the fall sports and the spring sports to change,” she said.

Board member Donna Sivigny said she’s leaning toward that option as well due to failing grades and issues with student engagement.

Carroll supervisor of athletics Michael Duffy said he worries that option would cause teachers to lose that “hook” or incentive. He said most coaches are pushing and prioritizing education and have an education background but some do not.

“We strive and we pride ourselves upon being an education-based athletic program,” Duffy said. “And I truly worry, if we remove the eligibility and academic component, we have essentially created a school-based club program.”

He said he favors the protocol in option three.

“If we were going to do that, we should have done it for the first group,” Herbert said. “It’s not fair. We’re not being fair then to the group that’s finishing up the winter sports.”

Sivigny said she understands where Duffy is coming from and that there needs to be some sense of accountability.

Kiler said he thinks he is in the middle. Board member Patricia Dorsey said she likes option three “because it’s sort of like a compromise in one sense,” and board member Tara Battaglia agreed.

“If we weren’t in hybrid, it’d be something completely different,” she added.

Student representative Devanshi Mistry said she’s also on the fence noting the importance of accountability but also of extracurriculars, especially to those struggling with mental health.

Board members eventually agreed to the third option but with amendments that only the students who would not have been eligible when the season started are required to improve their grades by the midway point.

The midway point for the third quarter is March 5, the same day games begin for the fall season, and the midway point for the fourth quarter is April 13.

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