Expansion of Cape sports program to seventh grade providing motivational boost

Friday, October 9, 2009
Teammates laugh as seventh-grader Darion Harris, 13, center, gets his helmet stuck on his head backward Wednesday during the end of practice at Central Junior High School. (Kit Doyle)

After an enthusiastic introduction from junior high school athletic director Terry Kitchen, two seventh-grade football players approached the podium at a recent Cape Girardeau School Board meeting. At the same podium where parents dispute school policies, staff members defend positions and administrators recognize student achievements, the young athletes thanked the board for approving a plan in January to expand competitive sports to seventh grade.

Junior high school principal Roy Merideth said parents later told him it was a great opportunity to have the students do the public presentation. He said it was another perk to the program that is having an effect on the school.

Starting this school year, the junior high expanded its sports programs to include seventh-grade students. Merideth said the new program is helping the school's younger students become more engaged in the school.

"Anytime you feel a part of something, you automatically do better," Merideth said.

The sense of community is also translating to parents. Karen Retter, the mother of a seventh-grader, founded a booster club at the beginning of the school year to build school spirit.

Central Junior High seventh-grader Jalen Reddin, 13, organizes his football stickers while comparing his to a friend's Wednesday in Cape Girardeau. (Kit Doyle)

"We don't have a lot of money, so it's just putting streamers up and doing stuff like that," she said. The group, which has about 45 members, also has a concession stand during games.

"We can do small stuff to make baby steps so they're ready to go to the high school," she said.

She said taking on football as a seventh-grader is teaching her son how to budget his time.

After the policy was approved in January, Kitchen faced the challenge of arranging games after other schools already set their schedule.

"If you're a good athletic director, you're always scheduling a year in advance," he said.

The school added cross country, basketball, wrestling, football, basketball and track for seventh-graders as well as cross country and wrestling for eighth-graders. Kitchen said the expansion cost $19,466, including for operating expenses like busing and equipment. Students are using old equipment and uniforms to save money, he said.

Kitchen, who has been involved with district sports for more than 30 years, said the new program is bringing unity to the school and is keeping students focused in the classroom. It is also giving some students a much-needed positive role model, he said.

"If you're going to be called coach, whether you like it or not, there's a certain way you have to carry yourself," he said.

The school did not have sports at the seventh-grade level because of the way grades were previously distributed throughout the district, Kitchen said. Eighth- and ninth-graders were housed in the middle school building before the high school opened while seventh-graders were housed in Schultz School.

In Jackson, building formats also pose a challenge for sports programs, said athletic director John Martin. Eighth- and ninth-graders are housed in the junior high school and the sixth- and seventh-graders are in the middle school. To keep students involved, he said, the middle school focuses more on programs like fishing, flag football, volleyball and dodge ball.

There are also organized track, cross country, volleyball and wrestling programs at the seventh-grade level. He said he is looking to expand the program to include other sports in the future.

Staying involved in sports helps keeps them involved in the classroom, he said.

"A lot of kids do have self-motivation," he said. "Those that do struggle or are borderline, that gives them a little more motivation."



Pertinent address:

205 Caruthers Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

North West Lane, Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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