Wyoming County’s passion for hoops was on full display at Monday’s Board of Education meeting.
More than two-thirds of the three and one-half hour meeting was devoted to discussion of the BOE’s recent decision to change middle school basketball to a 6-8 grade model.
The meeting played to a packed house at the Career and Technical Center.
County schools had grades 5-6 basketball in the fall and grades 7-8 in the winter for years.
The Wyoming County Principals Association requested in March that the change be made. They cited declining enrollment, which made it difficult for some schools to field a team. They also noted that neighboring counties were using the 6-8 model.
The change was supported by all of the elementary and middle school principals, and the BOE voted to adopt the new format.
Most of those at Monday’s meeting were opposed to the change.
Many citizens addressed the board.
Misty Lester said children at Huff Consolidated already have to travel to take part in any sport besides basketball.
Other options, such as travel ball, get “very expensive,” she noted.
Lester also said playing school ball requires students to attend school and maintain a grade average.
Colby Pennington told the board that players “come together and learn to play as a team.”
Terri Smith, principal of Mullens Middle and president of the Wyoming County Principals Association, said the change was made because some schools did not have enough players to have a team or a cheerleading squad.
She also noted that the 6-8 format would allow county teams to play schools from other counties.
Smith said the principals were considering other options, such as a program for grades 4-5 that would expose children to several sports.
Rory Chapman, a teacher at Herndon and former Wyoming East basketball coach suggested having teams for grades 3-5.
“Everybody wants what is best for the kids,” said Dr. Mike Muscari.
He said he would like to see “opportunity and expansion” of non-athletic as well as athletic programs.
“If we can expand opportunities, we can attract people to our county,” he said.
Board President Michael Prichard noted that no one objected when the board voted for the format change.
Several people said they were unaware that the meeting was taking place.
(Later, Sonny Boinsegna suggested the board place its agenda on its Facebook page.)
Boyd Blankenship, a Raleigh County teacher and coach, talked about how the gradese 3-5 program works there.
He said he accommodates students who want to play two sports in the same season.
Dave Barksdale, coaching legend at Woodrow Wilson, talked about Wyoming County’s hoops tradition and said ht hoped the county wouldn’t eliminated 5-6 basketball.
Jason Smyth, who is active in youth league basketball, said schools help “keep some in line”
Superintendent of Schools Deirdre Cline said middle schools have been expanding their sports offerings in recent years to include volleyball, cross county, softball and other sports.
She said the board had never turned down a request to have a team.
The goal, she noted, “is to do right by kids.”
Principals, she observed, were in the early stages of developing options for students in grade 5 and younger.
Money is not a consideration, Cline reported.
The board spends $350,000 annually on coaches, she pointed out.
“We need to work together,” Cline said.
Board Member Mike Davis said he wished now the board had waited to make a decision on the matter instead of voting on the night it was presented.
New information presented at Monday’s meeting would be considered, he said.
“This is not set in stone,” Board Member Betty England remarked.
The board did not vote on the matter.
John Conley can be reached at 304-732-6060 or on Twitter @PIHnews.