The Booneville School Board approved last week allowing seventh and ninth grade track athletes to compete in junior and senior high district track meets, respectively, following completion of their track seasons.

Because the change is immediate, all junior high track athletes who wish to, and are allowed by coaches to do so, can compete in the senior high district meet in Waldron on April 25. The junior high district meet is on April 18 in Booneville.

Previously not allowed, seventh grade athletes will be permitted to compete in the junior high district meet.

It was long time track coach Ricky May who lobbied the board to make the change last week. May said the current limited size of the school’s track program is preventing the school from competing for a district title.

"When I came 13 years ago we had to turn kids away," said May. "We just don’t have that luxury any more."

May said the primary problem is because each school can enter as many as four athletes in an individual event, the teams are losing potential points because in most events he has only one or two athletes for the event.

In junior high that is a possibility of having points from 64 athletes — 68 in senior high.

"We just don’t have four people to put in every event like we used to," said May.

Exacerbating the problem is the athletes coaches have are limited to six events, only four of which can be running events.

May coaches both seventh grade teams and the junior boys squads. He has only 23 kids on the junior boys squad, eight of which only do one field event, often because they cannot meet minimum standards.

Lesia Deeds, who coaches the junior and senior girls, is accustomed to having as few as seven girls against squads of 28 or more.

Two years ago the board approved a policy change to allow freshmen to compete on the varsity level of any sport for which there is not senior high equivalent, or golf, tennis, baseball and softball.

The reason May said the new request was being made for track is because, mainly, it is the last sport of the year and allowing athletes to move up will not interfere with other sports as it would with a junior high football player who also plays basketball, or a junior basketball playing athlete who also runs track.

Seventh grade is considered junior high and freshmen are considered senior high by the Arkansas Activities Association, May said. He added after the junior high district meet there is nothing left but spring football practice and incoming sophomores do participated in those sessions.

Allowing an athlete to move to the next level in track — or other sports — is commonplace across the conference and in 4A and other classifications.

May said he has consulted with junior high track athletes about adding seventh grade competitors and has gotten no objection. He reported that Deeds has done the same thing with the same results.

However, he also added no coach — he, Deeds and senior boys coach Josh Walker are all BHS grads — would bump an athlete from an event in which they have been competing all year.

"I know our coaches have more character than that," said May. "It’s just not right."

Board member Mike Farris asked if the change could affect freshmen taking end of course tests. Both May and junior high principal Scotty Pierce said the tests are typically completed before the senior high district meet is held, as is the case this year.