Does getting cut from a high school athletic team teach students important life lessons about hard work, competition, and accepting disappointment?
Or does it exclude kids, robbing aspiring athletes of the chance to learn new skills, stay in shape, and feel connected to the community?
That’s not just an academic debate at Hudson High School.
The school is experimenting with allowing coaches to cut players in two sports this year, after previously prohibiting the practice.
“I think it sends a message to individuals that nothing’s going to be given to you,” said Michael Mercuri, the varsity boys’ basketball coach at Hudson High, who cut players for the first time last season.
The school’s athletic director, Luis Macedo, was wary of changing the policy. “It’s nice to win, but we can’t just win at all costs,” Macedo said. “We learn a lot from being part of a team.”
At most high schools, cuts are necessary in sports such as soccer, tennis, basketball, and golf, in which there is a high volume of interest and starting positions are limited. Sports such as cross-country and track are more suited to large rosters, so that even the biggest schools do not typically cut athletes who want to participate. And some high schools are so small that cuts are not necessary.
Both Macedo and Hudson High principal Brian Reagan said they were reluctant to allow cuts, but agreed to try them in boys’ basketball and girls’ volleyball after lobbying by students, coaches, and parents who said that the process would make the school’s teams more competitive.
While proponents support expanding the policy, Reagan said, his preference is to keep the cuts limited to the two sports for at least one more year.
“The people who want cuts, they’re saying, let’s have a more elite program,” Reagan said. “My philosophy is not about elitism or having more banners in the gym. I want kids to be engaged in things after school as much as possible. I’d rather put a uniform on them, and if I have 40 girls who want to play soccer in eighth grade, let’s do it, I’ll split the schedule and hire another coach.”
District officials will make a report to the School Committee this spring about the results of the experiment .
Paul Wetzel, spokesman for the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, said he doesn’t know of another public school in the state that has a formal no-cut policy. “Frankly, I don’t know how you’d do it,” he said. “You’d end up with way too many kids for the coaches to handle.
“Probably a lot of football teams don’t have cuts, certainly at the smaller schools,” Wetzel added. “But that’s not an athletic department policy. That’s just a result of the fact that you can’t get enough kids to come out for the team.”
The MIAA cites the benefits of participating in sports, including higher grade-point averages, graduation rates, attendance numbers, and test scores for athletes than for students who don’t participate on school teams. Wetzel noted that schools commonly encourage kids who are cut from one team to go out for another less-competitive sport.
Participation in a few no-cut school sports has risen substantially across the state over the past decade.
Wellesley High athletic director John Brown said his school has tremendous athletic participation despite having some teams with limited rosters. He doesn’t buy into the notion that a more selective tryout process results in better teams, noting that the school’s successful varsity boys’ basketball team has a 15-player roster, leaving 10 players on the bench at any given time during a game.
“I don’t think that necessarily keeping high numbers affects your ability to compete,” Brown said. “You need coaches that can communicate with kids and make sure everyone understands their roles.”
James Davis, athletic director at Belmont High, said cuts are required in different sports in different years, depending on how many kids try out. He said students who don’t make a team are directed to no-cut sports or club athletic programs, and he noted that 77 percent of Belmont High’s students participate in at least one sport.
Davis also pointed out that coaches don’t simply watch kids take two shots and then post a cut list in the gymnasium and walk away. “Every kid gets a three-day tryout,” he said. “Any time a student tries out for a team and doesn’t make the team, I require my coaches to have a conversation with those kids.”
Brooke de Lench, a Concord resident and publisher of a Waltham-based sports parenting website, www.momsteam.com, says that public schools shouldn’t be telling kids they can’t participate in school activities.
“We don’t need to beat our kids down,” de Lench said. “We need to show them that competition and working hard for something is really good. But eliminating them from that process never really achieves anything.”
She added that schools can accommodate all of the kids who want to play by creating several junior varsity teams, or by allowing some players to participate in practice but not suit up for games.
But Mercuri, the varsity boys’ coach at Hudson, said tryouts and cuts teach life lessons.
“I try to relate it to real-world scenarios,” he said. “I don’t know of a job that exists where just because you apply you get it.”
Mercuri said it’s “very difficult” to tell kids they can’t be on the team, but he said the logistics of having an unlimited number of players are even more difficult. Cuts, he said, allow for more in-depth instruction and playing time for kids who make the team.
The girls’ varsity basketball team at Hudson was not “oversubscribed,” so cuts were not considered. There were about 50 girls divided among the eighth-grade, freshman, junior varsity, and varsity teams this year, he said, few enough that there was enough playing time to go around. He felt that the chemistry “was great.”
However, 25 students were cut from the girls’ volleyball team this year, according to Macedo, and 15 from the boys’ basketball team. Most of those kids didn’t end up playing another sport, he said.
“It worries me because we’re an educational institution,” Macedo said. “We want kids to learn to throw a baseball or a football, so when those kids become parents they can help their kids. Yeah, it’s always nice to be competitive and win, but I think the lessons we teach students in athletics, that’s much greater than the championships.”
Statewide over the past decade, the number of students participating in traditionally “no-cut” sports has risen substantially. The increase in numbers for soccer and tennis is the result of more schools offering the specific sport.
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