Waconia School District 110 began offering competitive lacrosse at the high school level last spring and with the recent installation of tennis courts could be offering competitive tennis next spring.

But at the middle school level the direction is heading the other way.

The district has redesigned how it offers some middle school sports, moving away from competitive traveling teams to more intramurals and instructional-based play.

Many middle school athletes compete in school sports and/or an association or community education sport during the same season, notes Waconia Middle School Principal Shane Clausen. Over time, participation in middle school programs has declined while other community education and association programs continue to grow.

With this in mind, starting in the 2019-2020 school year, some middle school sports, like soccer, basketball, golf, softball and baseball, will not be offered as a school-run activity. These sports are available through associations or community ed programs. The middle school will continue to offer football, volleyball, cross-country, swimming, gymnastics, girls’ hockey, dance team, wrestling and track and field for now.

By reducing the number of competitive sports, the district also expects to reduce expenses related to coaches’ salaries, game officials and travel costs.

“We have been considering these changes for some time and now is the right time,” said Clausen, who notes that other schools like Chaska and Chanhassen have taken similar approaches to their middle school sports programs.

While the changes will save the district money, the move is not targeted as a budget cut to address recent shortfalls, said School Superintendent Pat Devine. The intent is to create flexibility and address time demands for students and parents. Also, to offer opportunities to “match the interests of the total student population in sixth through eighth grade,” he said.

With the redesign anticipated for the 2019-2020 school year, students will have more flexibility in their after-school schedules because each activity won’t have as much of a time commitment as previous years and students won’t have to spend time traveling for the activity.

“This opens up opportunities for all middle school students to try other sports or activities that they might have wanted to do but didn’t have the chance,” Devine said.

“Our intent is not to eliminate options, but rather to offer a robust after-school program with a variety of experiences,” Clausen said. That includes student council, clubs, fine arts such as music and theatre productions, and new package of intramural activities, where students are involved in peer-to-peer competition rather than traveling to other schools.

The intramural program will include sessions on field sports, court sports and backyard games.

“The nature of middle school is welcome kids of all skills to all kinds of play – no cuts,” Clausen said. ““While perceived drawback to this approach might be that we overlook some athletically talented kids, our supervisors are going to see the same kids, day after day, so they should be able to identify those young people and encourage them to try the sport at an association or more competitive level. My experience has been that the more kids we can get involved in a fun, positive after-school experience is very important at this age.”

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