Path clearing for SWR middle school athletes to varsity

As eighth-graders, former Shoreham students Kari Quinn (left), Nick Bottari and Kaitlyn Brosco all excelled on varsity in their respective sports. (File photos)

Shoreham-Wading River inched closer to adopting a selection classification policy, an issue that’s been the point of contention in the district for several years. Athletic director Mark Passamonte, who began the position in January, outlined a policy to the Board of Education at Tuesday night’s meeting that will allow for middle school students to be brought up to varsity or junior varsity sports under a specific set of guidelines. 

While the board did not officially approve the policy pending a few minor tweaks, it authorized Passamonte to follow the “spirit of the policy” for the spring season, which begins Monday.

Shoreham has never had an official policy on selection classification, unlike nearly every school in Suffolk County, and changes to the guidelines for how students can be brought up has created constant controversy.

The classification process is intended for students with exceptional ability in their sport to have the opportunity to compete at a higher level. The policy outlines a six-step procedure that leads up to team tryouts for the particular sport.

As the first step, a varsity coach must recommend to the athletic director that a student should be classified, a process that begins 60 days prior to the season. The student needs parental permission and a unanimous consensus is then needed among the athletic director, middle school principal, middle school guidance counselor and one middle school core academic teacher after an academic and disciplinary review. The student then needs medical clearance, to pass a fitness test and be evaluated by the varsity coach. That leads into the team tryout.

The athletic director issues final approval after a meeting with the coach.

“I spoke with some veteran coaches here at Shoreham — Sal Mignano, Paul Koretzki and Deb Lutjen — combined they have over 90 years’ experience,” Passamonte said in his presentation. “Over those 90 years of experience, they’ve moved up approximately 23 students, which equates to about one student every four years.”

Students in seventh grade are only eligible to be brought up to junior varsity or varsity in non-contact sports, with wrestling the one exception.

“If a student is wrestling someone in their own weight class and can beat them on a regular basis, I think that’s justification,” Passamonte said.

An exception may also be made to bring up a seventh-grade student if it’s deemed that the safety of the other students on the middle team is compromised.

The policy takes the Board of Education out of the equation. After a policy committee meeting in November, the board agreed that it should be removed from the process, according to an email vice president John Zukowski wrote to fellow board members and superintendent Steven Cohen.

One area of concern for the board related to a student’s academics. Zukowski questioned whether there should be a specific academic standard students must maintain. Passamonte said since there are only a few students each season that would be classified, he could easily keep tabs on the student’s academic standing.

“The real concern should be that they’re keeping up with their work,” board president Bill McGrath said. “They’re not getting swamped because they have to get to the middle school or the high school for practices and all these other little incidentals.”

One concern the board raised centered on the coaches’ evaluation of a student prior to tryouts. The board felt varsity coaches should not attend “outside events,” such as a travel team, to evaluate the student. Another concern was how students in seventh or eighth grade fit into the culture of the team that’s mostly going to be juniors and seniors.

Passamonte said that has not been an issue in his experience. McGrath said in his experience when his daughter competed in track and field at Shoreham, the older girls tended to mentor the younger girls.

For the spring season, Passamonte said he’s only received one selection classification request so far.

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Shoreham-Wading River athletic director Mark Passamonte outlined a selection classification policy to the Board of Education Tuesday night. (Joe Werkmeister photo)