Second in a series

When it comes to redshirting, the classic method has been to repeat eighth grade. Often this was done when a student who had gone through eight grades at a Catholic school transferred to a public school and repeated that grade.

Obviously, with the close in recent years of most Catholic grade schools in the region, that's not done as much, and the PIAA has taken some steps to stop repeating eighth grade.

As so often happens, though, there are loopholes.

For example, the PIAA eligibility rules state, "Your athletic eligibility extends only until you have reached the end of your fourth consecutive year (eighth consecutive semester or the equivalent) beyond the eighth grade. Therefore, if you repeat a grade after eighth, you will be ineligible as a senior."

But it doesn't say anything about repeating eighth grade.

Also, the rule states, "You may participate (1) a minimum of six seasons in each sport during grades seven through 12, (2) a maximum of four seasons in each sport during grades nine through twelve, and (3) a maximum of three seasons in each sport in grades seven through nine."

That's the 12-semester rule which, presumably, limits a student to six years of say, football, from grades seven through 12. To repeat eighth grade would, presumably, give a student a seventh season of football.

But again, there are ways around it. For example, a student could attend seventh or eighth grade and play for a midget team, such as the Mount Carmel Jets, instead of a school team.

Lower grades

Because of the 12-semester rule, the impetus for redshirting a student is now coming at lower grade levels. Some are doing it in fifth or sixth grade, but the preferred method now is to hold a child back a year before entering kindergarten. That's perfectly acceptable to most school administrators, although some in the education community warn about risks to the child.

Even a vocal critic of redshirting, such as former Shamokin Area Superintendent Gerald Nesvold, is on board with holding kids back before they enter kindergarten if the parents thinks it's beneficial to their child.

"I don't have a problem with that," Nesvold said. "But I would want to know if the child will be in some kind of program before that. That's why I'm so glad that Shamokin decided to renew the Pre-K program. Pre-kindergarten is very important for socialization skills, teaching kids how to get along with other kids."

Line Mountain Superintendent David Campbell said he encourages parents who want to enroll their children at a fairly early age to wait, particularly if the child is a boy.

"When I have a parent ask about when to start school, I say no earlier than 5, and closer to 6 if possible," Campbell said. "Five-and-a-half would be ideal. There's no doubt girls mature faster than boys. You can see it that early."

"Males, for whatever reason, across the board don't mature as fast as females, and there's plenty of supporting documentation on that," Mount Carmel Athletic Director Greg Sacavage said.

Mostly for males

In fact, it seems redshirting, at least in the later grades, is almost purely a males-only phenomenon.

"That makes sense," Campbell said. "It's almost the opposite situation. If you look at sports like track or cross country, a lot of the state titles are won by girls who are freshmen or sophomores, before their bodies change. Once they get more womanly, they lose that advantage. Now, in some sports, maybe like softball, I can see where they'd want another year to get a little bigger."

As for age requirements, the PIAA states, "To be eligible to participate in grades 10 through 12, you must not have reached your 19th birthday by June 30 immediately preceding the school year." That means if you turn 19 on July 1 or thereafter, you're eligible.

Years ago, PIAA rules stated that once a student turned 19, he was done. That meant some students could play football or soccer in the fall, but then be ineligible the rest of the school year if they turned 19 in December, for example.

The change to the current July 1 cutoff date has been around for several decades.

"I don't know exactly when it changed but it pre-dates my time here, and I started in 1988," said PIAA Assistant Executive Director Robert Lombardi.

Lombardi said redshirting has become less of an issue over the years, particularly since more parents are holding off on starting their children in kindergarten.

Some kids are now benefitting from what is essentially a double redshirt, waiting a year before kindergarten and then, if their age will allow it, staying back another year in school.

Sacavage, who previously worked at Shamokin Area where he was an assistant wrestling coach, said he's seen from firsthand experience what a difference a year (or two, in some cases) can make.

"I have seen at the state wrestling tournament men who were 19 years old wrestling against kids who were 17, and it was like men against boys. But those people followed the rules that were in place," he said. "The PIAA has set parameters that you can be 19 years of age and still competing.

"It is a hard thing to legislate morality," he continued, "and that's why at Mount Carmel we have a specific policy that says you must do this, this and this in order to be retained. It just doesn't happen."

The PIAA is pretty strict on the 19-year-old cutoff date, though, according to Southern Columbia athletic director and head football coach Jim Roth. Even though a student who turns 19 on June 30 is only one day older than one who turns 19 on July 1, by the PIAA's book, that student is a year older, since there has to be some cutoff.

"We've had three kids who couldn't play their senior season because they were too old," Roth said. "Once you get past the age, the PIAA is pretty tough, because then it becomes a liability issue for them. You know, you let my kid out on the field and possibly get hurt playing against someone clearly older.

"In some cases, you can apply to the PIAA for another year," he said. "That's usually in cases where a kid had a serious illness, or was a foreign exchange student. The illness might not have caused him to repeat (a grade), but it may have caused him to miss playing sports for a year."

MCA's Promotion/ Retention policy

Following is the wording of Mount Carmel Area School District's Promotion and Retention policy, which is used in part for cases where it's requested a student repeat a grade.  The board recognizes that the personal, social, physical, and educational growth of children will vary, and they should be placed in the educational setting most appropriate to their needs and the various stages of their growth.

It shall be the policy of the Board that each child is moved forward in a continuous pattern of achievement and growth that is in harmony with his/her own development.
Such pattern coincides with the system of grade levels established by this Board and the instructional objectives established for each.

A student will be promoted to the succeeding grade level when he/she has completed the course requirements at the presently assigned grade, and demonstrated growth in attainment of proficiency of Standards as directed by Chapter 4 of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Retention Guidelines:
1. A student in grades 1-3 may be considered for retention if he/she is failing reading and/or math and all avenues for correction have been tried in attempt to correct the deficiency.

2. A student in grades 4-6 may be considered for retention if he/she is failing 2 major subjects: reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies and science for the year and has not been retained already in that grade.

3. At the secondary level a student may be considered for retention if he/she is failing 2 major subjects: reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science for the year and has not been retained already in that grade.
The administration has developed procedures for promotion and retention of students which:

1. Require the recommendation of all the classroom teachers and support personnel who instruct the student for promotion or retention.

2. Assure that every effort will be made to remediate the student's difficulties before he/she is retained.

3. Assure that no student will be retained more than two (2) times.

4. All retention recommendations/requests must be made by May 15th. Parental requests must be supported in writing by an independent evaluation or a physician's recommendation.

5. A parent meeting must be held by May 30th to define the student's educational program.

6. Parents who request a student be retained through a physician recommendation will be required to sign off on NCAA course requirements and Mount Carmel Area graduation requirements.

7. Students may take advanced courses if they have an overall grade point average of 90% or above in the content area and/or be a member of the National Honor Society.

8. Courses taken prior to grade 9 cannot count on a student transcript as per the Pennsylvania School Code/Policy.

9. Students will not graduate without completion of a senior project.

10. Assign to the building principal the final responsibility for determining the promotion or retention of each student.

(Coming Tuesday: Parents' pursuit of scholarships fuels redshirting, administrators say.)