Athletic program kicks off for middle-school students


Westwood Middle School guard Kenzie Cook dribbles around the Kanapaha Middle School defense in the inaugural game of the Alachua County Schools middle school basketball league Monday in the Westwood Middle School gymnasium.

JIM MATTHEWS/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, January 11, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 11, 2005 at 12:58 a.m.
Terrye Dubberly never fulfilled her middle school dream. But Monday, she lived it through her eighth-grade daughter, Kacie.
When she was in middle school, Dubberly wanted to represent her school on the basketball court. But Alachua County didn't have an athletic program for middle-school students then.
Today it does.
Honoring her mother, Kacie ran on to the court Monday wearing Kanapaha Middle School jersey No. 10 - the same number Dubberly once donned as a high school athlete.
The new Alachua County middle school athletic program tipped off Monday afternoon with eight basketball games throughout the county.
During the pilot program, boys and girls teams from eight of the county middle schools will play each other twice, allowing each team a 14-game season.
Schools Superintendent Dan Boyd said he expects enthusiasm from teachers, parents and students.
"We're looking forward to a good experience for boys and girls," he said. "It's been a long time coming."
Since the inception of Alachua County middle schools in the 1970s, organized sports for sixth- to eighth-grade students have been absent. At the time, administrators believed competition at a young age was undesirable, said Charley Wise, Alachua County Public Schools athletic director.
Rivalry is good for them, said Hannah Greene, the grandmother of Westwood Middle's smallest player, Sheniece Benis.
"Sheniece, get 'em girl," she yelled as Benis guarded a girl twice her height.
On the court, "she feels as big as they are," Greene said.
The district agrees and is abandoning the former "kinder and gentler philosophy" for a competitive sports program expected to increase students' motivation and morale, Wise said.
To participate in the pilot program, students must meet academic and behavioral requirements established by their school principals, Wise said. Next year, students will be required by the district to maintain a "C" average.
Vanessa Hayes, the mother of Westwood basketball player Geria Madison, said her daughter knows school comes first.
"I called the coach and told her to watch those grades," Hayes said. "If she doesn't make the grades, I want her pulled. This is a privilege."
Nothing can persuade parents and students to rally behind a school the way a sports team can, Wise said.
And opening day, Westwood students cheered enthusiastically for their team.
"They're so cute. They're so excited," Boyd said, smiling. "You could say, 'We're at capacity. Every seat in the house is filled.'"
Boyd said parents have been asking him to institute an athletic program since serving as Alachua County's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the late '90s.
"I decided when I came as the superintendent (last summer) that it was something that we needed to do," Boyd said. "When the school board hired me, they understood it was one of the initiatives I would institute, and they were supportive of it."
Parents will also need to provide support in order to keep the program going next year, Wise said.
Although the district is counting on parental contributions and fund-raisers, schools are footing most of the bills now, he said. The pilot season is expected to cost about $24,000.
If the season is a success, volleyball, soccer and track will be added to the program next year, bumping the annual cost up to about $60,000.

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