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When practices for the various fall sports teams get started Monday, there may be fewer athletes on the fields and courts at Beddingfield High.
That’s because students who are enrolled at Wilson Academy of Applied Technology, a separate institution housed within the walls of Beddingfield, are no longer able to participate in athletics, per a decision made by the Wilson County Board of Education earlier this year. Students enrolled at WAAT have been eligible to play sports at Beddingfield the past two years since WAAT’s inception.
“It became necessary for WAAT’s hours to align with the hours at Wilson Community College in order for WAAT students to graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree,” said Amber Lynch, public relations director for Wilson County Schools. “The time change unfortunately impacted the opportunity for students to participate in athletics.”
WAAT is a five-year program that is described on the Wilson Community College website as a “collaborative effort between Wilson County Schools, Wilson Community College and local industry.” Graduates will receive an associate degree in addition to their high school diploma.
The loss of student-athletes is particularly significant at Beddingfield, which posted an average daily membership (ADM) of 798 for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association football playoffs last fall. That number has fallen steadily at Beddingfield since 2014, when the school’s ADM was 861.
Bruins varsity football head coach James Ward said that 13 prospective varsity football players for this season would not be able to play because they were enrolled at WAAT. Beddingfield listed 41 players on its varsity roster last season.
Ward also said that he would have to see what the turnout is like at tryouts this coming week before being able to determine if Beddingfield will be able to field a junior varsity football team this season.
When the decision was announced this spring, needless to say, it was not popular with many WAAT students and their parents.
“We were all really shocked at first and then we started getting really panicked because everybody starting realizing, ‘We can’t play football or tennis, soccer,whatever,’” said Zack Reaves, a rising junior at WAAT. “So a few of us started to make a petition to get the hours changed and we were going to show up at the next school board meeting. We all felt really, really strongly about this and there was nobody that was happy at all. The mood was very, very angry.”
The petition was never presented, Reaves said, because it was discouraged by staff and administration at WAAT.
Lynch disagreed that the petition was discouraged, saying: “The WAAT administration shared with students that the board had voted to align WAAT’s school hours with the hours at Wilson Community College, which meant that students would no longer be able to participate in athletics.”
Also upsetting to students and their parents was the turnaround from the original decision to allow WAAT students to play sports. Zack Reaves’ father, Glenn, noted the disparity from the original policy.
“These kids were promised coming over — at least that group in the first two years — they were promised they could participate in athletics,” said the elder Reaves, a former coach and teacher at Fike High who later was principal at Springfield Middle and then Beddingfield High. “That was one of the reasons my son chose to go. He’s really enjoyed it and things have worked out well. He’s enjoyed being a part of Beddingfield’s athletic program.”
Glenn Reaves, who served on the Wilson County Board of Education from 2014 to 2016, also pointed out that there was not much discussion prior to the decision being announced.
“Now the kids may have been informed about it, but I certainly wasn’t asked for my opinion or thoughts about it, I can promise you that,” he said.
Lashara Rasberry, whose son Davallice Rodgers-Rasberry is one of a handful of students who opted to leave WAAT after the decision to not allow athletic participation, also wasn’t happy with how the decision was handled.
“We had a choice between Wilson Early College and we chose WAAT because they gave them the ability to play sports,” she said.
Rasberry said that her son decided to leave WAAT so that he would not miss out on the opportunity to play sports in high school.
“I don’t think it was in the best interests of WAAT because once they made this decision, we knew that some of our kids wouldn’t give up athletics,” she said.
STICKING IT OUT
While some of the students have decided to leave WAAT and return to their home schools, most of them are going to stick it out, including Zack Reaves.
“First of all, it was a very, very hard decision and being that my family has a very deep history with athletics in Wilson County, it was a decision I didn’t really want to have to make,” he said of giving up football and golf at Beddingfield. “But then when I thought about my education and what I was getting from WAAT, I just had to stick it out.”
The decision was even more difficult for Reaves’ classmate Johnathan Harris, a football and track standout. Harris was a member of the Bruins 4x100-meter relay team that finished second at the NCHSAA 2-A championship meet in May.
“I’m going to stay (at WAAT) but that decision might change,” Harris said. “That was a real tough decision because during track season I had scouts looking at me from different (colleges).”
Harris said he based his decision on the advantages he would receive by remaining at WAAT, sports or not.
“That associate degree kept me in there because I would have to work even harder if I was in a regular school to get an associate degree,” he said. “But that’s the main reason I stayed because an associate degree is in the palm of my hand and I had to balance between academics and a scholarship for track.”
Still, Harris poses a valid question about the preparation that WAAT provides for college.
“Even in college, we’re still going to play sports and this is early college, so what’s the point of us not being able to play sports when we’re going to be playing sports in regular college?” he said. “This is supposed to be early college, helping us get ready for the actual thing.”
As unpopular as the decision was to not allow WAAT students to participate in athletics, it’s one that has few, if any, alternatives due to WAAT aligning itself with the hours available for classes at Wilson Community College, where most of them will take place this year, unlike the previous two years.
“We didn’t have the intention to keep the students from having the ability to participate in sports, but it was just an impossibility to arrange the academic instructional time because we also have to be in sync with the instructional time at the community college as the students moved into those actual hours of instruction in the areas that they chose and the classes’ availability at the community college,” explained Christine Fitch, chairwoman for Wilson County Board of Education.
The change in hours was made to better serve WAAT students, Fitch said.
“This was to ensure that our students could benefit from the program because the community college may not be open to offer courses our students need and we are not looking to have our students be there from 10 in the morning to 7 at night or whatever,” she said. “It’s a matter of matching the resources at the community college since we are in a partnership with them as well as our resources. … This was a decision the school board made in order to better facilitate the instructional time for our students.”
Fitch also noted that the change was part of the board’s agenda, posted on its website and on the doors of the Wilson County Schools offices, prior to the monthly meetings.
“They may not have realized that, but they had an opportunity to come before us,” she said of parents who may not have known about the new policy prior to it being enacted. “We understand that there was disgruntlement that students would not be able to participate in sports, so we did give students an opportunity to opt out of WAAT if they wanted to return to their base school and be actively involved in sports or to remain at WAAT and not participate in sports.”
While Beddingfield coaches offered to revamp practice schedules to accommodate the new WAAT school hours, it wasn’t a matter of practice time, Lynch said.
“The issue is game times,” she said. “Many games begin at 4 p.m. and the school day for WAAT students does not end until 5 p.m. A plan was presented to the board at the March 2018 board of education meeting that listed a few sports that students might be able to participate in. At the April board meeting, the board continued the discussion but determined there were too many complicating factors. For instance, attending games would mean that WAAT students would have to constantly leave early or drive out of county on their own to attend away games. The suggestion was also made that they might only be able to play home games, which is not fair to the student and puts the team at a disadvantage.”
Even though some sports, notably football and basketball, never have starting times prior to 6 p.m., there were too many different circumstances to put into policy.
“We don’t want to have 15 different policies regarding the same issue, so we do try to adapt a policy that is uniform and consistent for all parties involved,” Fitch said.
Fitch said that while she doesn’t expect the policy to change, she’s not going to rule out the possibility of it being amended in the future.
“Well, we revise policy on a number of cases and there’s always a possibility that could be revisited but I’m not sure that there would be any change in terms of the athletic policy in relation to the students at WAAT,” she said. “I don’t rule anything out. There’s always a possibility of anything occurring.”
This story was corrected to change the number of Beddingfield's average daily membership in 2017 to 798, not 698 as was originally listed in the story. The Times regrets the error.