By Rob Potter
SULLIVAN COUNTY Last spring, Dillon Taggart was the starting catcher for the Livingston Manor baseball team. He helped the Wildcats win the 2011 New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) Class D championship.
This past autumn, twin sisters Camryn Johnson and Sydney Johnson were key members of the Monticello girls’ cross country team. Camryn Johnson won a few meets, while Sydney Johnson placed in the top five of those same races. The sisters ended their season by competing in the NYSPHSAA championship meet.
In addition to being talented athletes, Taggart and the Johnson sisters have something else in common. They are younger than their teammates and opponents. The Johnsons are currently in the eighth grade, while Taggart was an eighth-grader during the 2010-2011 school year.
The reason the three young athletes can compete for their schools at the varsity level is that they successfully completed the Selection/Classification program, which starting in the 2012-2013 academic year will be called Advanced Athletic Placement. This rigorous evaluation allows boys and girls in seventh and eighth grade to move up to the junior varsity or varsity level upon meeting certain requirements while also gaining one or two additional years of eligibility.
Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association (OCIAA) Assistant Athletic Coordinator Chris Mayo noted that the Selection/Classification process includes several steps. First, the athlete needs parental permission. Then he or she must pass a doctor’s evaluation. Next comes performance testing consisting of meeting specific requirements. Then the athlete must have a sport skill evaluation by the coach.
For many sports, the performance testing includes six events: shuttle run, long jump, flexed arm hang, stomach curls, 50-yard dash and 1.5-mile run. In basketball for example, a boy in seventh or eighth grade who wants to play for the varsity team must complete the shuttle run in 9.5 seconds, have a mark of 7 feet, 3 inches in the long jump, do the flexed arm hang for 30 seconds, perform 50 stomach curls and have a 50-yard dash time of 6.5 seconds.
For a girl in seventh or eighth grade seeking to play for the varsity basketball team, the standards are 10.5 seconds in the shuttle run, 5 feet, 8 inches in the long jump, do the flexed arm hang for 10 seconds, complete 46 stomach curls, run the 50-yard dash in 7.8 seconds and finish the 1.5-mile run in 15 minutes.
If he or she meets all of the requirements, the athlete can begin practicing and playing in games or meets for the team.
Mayo noted that in addition to the school keeping records of the Selection/Classification for each athlete, a copy of the evaluation is sent to the OCIAA safety committee to be kept in the committee’s records.
“If an athlete doesn’t pass the performance testing, a school may let them take it again,” Mayo said. “There is no rule that they can’t.”
Mayo pointed out that while the majority of high schools in Section IX use Selection/Classification, some do not use the program, preferring to keep younger athletes at the modified level. Among those schools is Highland.
The NYSPHSAA is very specific about the purpose of Selection/Classification. In its handbook, the NYSPHSAA states that “The program is not to be used to fill positions on teams, provide additional experience, provide a place for junior high students when no modified program is offered, or reward a student. Instead, it is aimed at the few select students who can benefit from such placement because of their level of readiness. It will also be fairer to the other students on the modified teams.”
Roscoe Athletic Director Fred Ahart noted that over the years there have been many Roscoe athletes who have completed the Selection/Classification process.
“Generally, each sport has different levels JV, varsity, freshman,” Ahart said. “Here in Roscoe, it’s mostly been athletes moving up to JV teams, especially in the last few years. But over the years we have had several athletes who were seventh and eight-graders move up to the varsity golf teams.”
However, Ahart noted that the performance testing for golf does not include the aforementioned six events. Instead, the athletes must play a round of 18 holes with the current team members and score among the top eight to qualify for Selection/Classification.
But no matter the sport, the program has a similar goal.
“The idea is to have athletes competing at the appropriate level for their fitness and ability,” Ahart said.
Livingston Manor girls’ basketball Coach Kevin Clifford is also familiar with Selection/Classification. Now in his ninth season of guiding the Lady Wildcats’ varsity team, Clifford has had three girls move up to the team through Selection/Classification. Two of those girls, Devon Dutcher and Ta-shauna West, are members of this season’s team. The third girl was Marissa Diescher, a member of the Manor Class of 2011. She saw her first varsity action as a seventh-grader in basketball in sectionals. In eighth grade, Diescher played for the Manor varsity basketball team and moved up to the school’s varsity softball team.
“We’ve had a lot of players test up to JV in eighth grade in all sports,” Clifford said. “We look to put the athletes at the best place for their abilities. If they aren’t going to benefit from modified, then we move them up to the next level that will benefit them the best. They need to pass a physical fitness test as well as a maturity test.
Clifford noted that Selection/Classification is not for every talented junior high athlete.
“Negatives would be if they aren’t emotionally mature enough to handle the next step at the varsity level, but that’s something you need to asses before moving them up,” he explained. “Also, you need to know if they can handle it academically with the later nights and more games.”