Observer Opinion: Are 8th grade athletes ethical?


Photo Courtesy of @dawgssports on Instagram

Cabin John Middle School and Herbert Hoover Middle School face off in a basketball game hosted by WCHS. There was a large turnout and really proved the intrest in middle school athletics.

By Michael Demske, Sports Editor

Friday night lights are the dream of many young football players as they anxiously await their freshman year of high school. Promising middle school baseball players are good enough, but can only watch their high school team play during the spring. Some middle schoolers are ready for the next stage of their athletic lives, yet are prevented from doing so. 

18 states across the country currently allow middle schoolers to play high school sports and Maryland is not one of them. According to the Maryland Public School Secondary Athletic Association (MPSSAA), middle, intermediate and junior high school students are not eligible to compete or practice with high school teams. High school athletes are also only eligible for a maximum of four seasons in any one sport between the ages of 13 and 19. 

These limitations are the reasons why Maryland athletics will never be among the likes of their southern counterparts. The states that allow middle schoolers to participate in high school sports believe in their coaches, trainers and staff to properly train these student-athletes for the next step. The interest in high school sports was clear when Cabin John Middle School played Herbert Hoover Middle School in the WCHS gym. The stands were filled with many excited fans and spectators, some even calling middle school players better than current high schoolers.

High schools that lack interest or talent in certain sports can really benefit from the presence of middle school athletes. Giving talented middle schoolers extra time to prepare at the high school level allows them the opportunity to improve and drive up interest in the sport. WCHS does not have this problem, because there is plenty of talent that keeps teams competitive, but it could level the playing field for other MCPS schools. 

As one of two eighth graders on the JV Churchill fall baseball team in 2018, Christopher Hacopian, a former WCHS student and Wake Forest baseball commit, felt right at home. Hacopion was especially ready for high school baseball as an eighth grader and probably could have been on varsity by the end of the season. He was not allowed to play though and almost decided to go to private school so he could get the experience he rightly deserved.

Many talented middle schoolers choose the private high school route for increased opportunity and competition. Private schools are exempt from the MPSSAA rules so there is an incentive to get a headstart. Allowing these athletes to get a taste of high school sports early could encourage them to stay with their public school feeder.

Many have safety concerns for these younger athletes due to the size disparity between middle and high school athletes. While that is a valid concern, many of the elite middle school athletes who would pursue high school athletics are already seeing players of similar size and skill on their club or travel teams. Another possible solution could include height and weight requirements for contact sports like football, basketball and lacrosse. 

Trent Seaborn, an eighth grader from Alabaster, Alabama led his team to the Alabama 6A state championship this past fall in one of the most competitive high school football conferences in the country. Considering the fact that he is just under six feet, weighs 170 pounds and has faced similar competition before, it would be unfair to hold him back. While this is obviously not a common occurrence, Maryland and MCPS could really benefit from a story like that.

When asking middle school athletes what they are most looking forward to, more likely than not their high school athletic experience would take the top spot. MCPS is notorious for its hardline approach to athletes’ safety and it will stay like that for the foreseeable future. This is fine until the solutions to those safety concerns are ignored, making it seem like MCPS is holding its athletes back. There are plenty of middle schoolers that have the potential to be special, they just need the chance.