Lafayette board revises policy to allow 6th-graders to play competitive team sports, except football _lowres

Lafayette School Board member Tehmi Chassion.

Sixth-graders now have a pass to play on school athletic teams — except football.

The Lafayette Parish School Board has revised its student athletics participation policy to include sixth-graders in all middle school sports except football. Most sixth-graders attend middle schools, but they have, until now, been excluded from participating in competitive school sports teams.

Board member Tehmi Chassion proposed the change at least once before. His last attempt to get the policy revised, in November, failed in a 5-4 vote. Board President Tommy Angelle and Chassion are the only two current board members who were on the board in 2014 and both supported the change at the time.

On Wednesday, Chassion’s push for sixth-graders to play sports received support from Angelle, Elroy Broussard, Justin Centanni, Jeremy Hidalgo, Erick Knezek and Dawn Morris. Board members Britt Latiolais and Mary Morrison voted against it.

Chassion said he brought up the policy revision last year at the request of parents. Last year, his recommendation was that sixth-graders be allowed to participate in all sports, including football. He said he amended his request to exclude football because he thought it’s what stood in the way of the board’s support last year.

“There was nothing specified that they couldn’t play, but we were preventing them from playing. It didn’t make any sense to me,” Chassion said.

Lafayette Parish Schools athletic director Bobby Badeaux said the policy change is in effect immediately — in time for basketball season. Badeaux said the policy requires students to receive their parents’ permission to participate. They also must make the coach’s cut.

“It’s not a guarantee that they will be on the team. It’s that they now have the right to try out and be a part of the team,” Badeaux said.

A sixth-grader also has to undergo a physical exam that clears the student to participate in sports. Chassion said the parent has control over whether the child tries out for a team.

“Who better to determine if their kid is worthy of trying out than their parent?” Chassion said. “We shouldn’t be making that decision. It should be up to the parent, and then the coach has the decision whether they make the team.”

Latiolais said he voted against the policy change over concern for student safety — such as an 11-year-old player against a 14- or 15-year-old. He said his decision also was based on the opinions of middle school principals and coaches in his district, who were not supportive of the change.

“But, I trust our coaches. I know they won’t let anything happen to these sixth-graders,” Latiolais said. “I’d rather err in the direction of caution. That’s why I felt we didn’t need to change it. I think everyone knows I’m a big advocate of athletics. My coaches were adamant that they did not want to go there and administrators did not want to go there.”

Latiolais said while he did not support the policy change, he respects the board’s decision and will work with coaches in his district to help with the adjustment. He credited Chassion for eliminating football participation in the policy change.

“It was a well-thought-out policy change. I applaud him for eliminating football,” Latiolais said.

Latiolais said it would be more ideal if the school system could afford to support a fifth- and sixth-grade athletic program, but the funding isn’t there.

Chassion said area private schools and neighboring St. Martin Parish schools allow sixth-graders to play competitive sports. Some parishes even allow fifth-graders to compete, he said.

“It’s common sense to me. Other parishes allow it,” he said. “It helps build better athletes, better students. We were preventing that.”

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.