Low numbers the biggest problem at Beddingfield

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The true fallout from the Wilson County Board of Education’s decision earlier this year to not allow students at Wilson Academy of Applied Technology to participate in athletics for Beddingfield High has yet to be realized.

The first consequence was the withdrawal of 11 students from WAAT for the 2018-19 school year so they could continue to play sports. That’s not going to change the policy enacted by the school board with regard to WAAT, a five-year program that allows students to graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate degree. While those students won’t be replaced, since enrollment begins in ninth grade, there are plenty of students waiting to enroll in the program.

The reasons to not allow WAAT students to participate in athletics has mainly to do with the times that WAAT classes will be in session — from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. — because they will be held at Wilson Community College. Those hours are in direct conflict with starting times of all contests for many sports, such as tennis, golf, volleyball, cross-country, track and field, swimming and wrestling, and in a number of games for soccer, baseball and softball. Because basketball and football games start after WAAT classes have ended, there is a chance that students who play those sports could still do so were it not for “complicating factors,” as Wilson County Schools public relations director Amber Lynch explained.

“The away games were a huge factor in determining that WAAT students would not have the opportunity to participate in athletics,” she said. “The college classes for the students are scheduled to end at 5 p.m., so the students would most likely miss the transportation that is provided to the away game by the district. This would cause a hardship for our families and students.

“Additionally, transportation to and from the away game is a major safety concern for our families and students. Another concern is liability due to students who drive themselves or make arrangements with other students to transport them. Also, the students would need time prior to the game to change, stretch and receive instruction from coaches.”

I think she makes valid points but I also think there could be a way to allow for students who play football and basketball to participate instead of just making a blanket policy to disallow athletic participation for all WAAT students.

I truly believe that each member of the board of education is there because he or she has the best interests of Wilson County students at heart. I just would urge them to reconsider this policy and try to make it work in a way so that at least some of the WAAT students could still participate in athletics.

I could go on and on about the benefits of playing sports and the lessons learned from there that one cannot always learn in a classroom. I could write endlessly about how athletics — like other extracurricular activities such as band and chorus — help provide a total education to our youngsters.

But mainly I just want to ask who benefits from this decision to prohibit students at WAAT from participating in athletics? It certainly doesn’t benefit the students who want to play sports.

I would also point out that, while the reason for the policy is because of the hours that Wilson Community College has, the students who attend Fike for the International Baccalaureate program there are not forced to decide between athletics and school. I know, I know, apples and oranges, but Beddingfield ends up with the lemon.

The football team is losing 13 players this year because they attend WAAT, meaning the Bruins will have a 1-A roster in a 2-A league, the Eastern Plains Conference. Furthermore, Beddingfield may not have a junior varsity football team, which I believe would be unprecedented in its 41-year history.

All of this underscores the main problem facing Beddingfield and education in Wilson County at large: It’s time for the board of education to draw new school districts. The county and city school systems merged in 1978 and, since then, there have been two changes in middle and high school districts, implemented in 1990 and again in 1999. During that time, Beddingfield counted neighborhoods that were originally and are currently in the Hunt district.

It’s time to consider redrawing districts and letting Beddingfield be more on par with Hunt and Fike. The disparity in enrollment is glaring. Beddingfield had an average daily membership of 798 students last fall when the North Carolina High School Athletic Association released ADMs for every school with a football team. Fike’s ADM was 1,211 and Hunt’s was 1,272. That means Beddingfield has a third fewer students than the other two schools in the county, which are bursting at the seams in terms of enrollment.

At what point will the board finally take notice and work to correct this situation? Beddingfield was not built to be a 1-A school in 1978 when it opened its doors as a 4-A school. But that’s where it is headed if redistricting doesn’t happen soon.