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Tuesday, June 23, 2015: Want to play on the varsity? There's an APP for that

   Leading off today: As recently as two months ago, you could have rolled the proverbial bowling ball through the Internet and not hit anything on the subject other than a few thick files from the New York State Education Department.

   Now, however, it's a topic that has crept onto meeting minutes from numerous school boards and will soon be the subject of one or more stories in every newspaper across New York.

   Welcome to the Athletic Placement Process.

   Above all else, APP is the new program for evaluating junior-high students who want to compete in junior varsity or varsity sports. As of this fall, it will replace the Selection/Classification Program, which existed in various forms since the 1970s.

   The NYSED consulted with the New York State Athletic Administrators Association, New York State Public High School Athletic Association, Statewide School Health Services Center, district medical directors and directors of physical education/athletics in the development of the new standards. Not surprisingly, questions abound at this point as people at all levels -- school officials, coaches, parents and the athletes themselves -- start to learn more about APP.

   As described by the NYSED, the key differences between Selection/Classification and APP include:

  • There are no waivers available in the APP -- a student must meet the appropriate standards of physical and emotional maturity, size, fitness, and skill, in order to qualify. Previously, waivers of maturation were permitted by school medical director and waivers of the physical fitness test were permitted by the NYSED.
  • Students will now be required to receive administrative approval (more on that below) to selectively classify.
  • The district medical director will determine a student's physical maturity level, and assess the physical size of the student in relation to that of the students against whom the student would compete.
  • The President's Physical Fitness Test replaces the old, sport-specific test components.
   (As an aside, NYSPHSAA Executive Director Robert Zayas, whose office is likely to field plenty of questions in coming months even though the policy originates with the NYSED, told me in March that he has reservations about some aspects of APP, specifically noting the abolition of waivers and the use of the Tanner Scale. The NYSED, which has been relatively receptive to input from the NYSPHSAA recently, has acknowledged those concerns.)

   APP had been under review at the state level for about three years before the final draft landed on desks somewhat unexpectedly early this year. I started hearing questions back in March and some of the questions have turned into concerns now that the new rules are being aired at school board meetings or written about in newspapers. (I think Bob Jamieson's story for The Star-Gazette on June 8 may have been the first extensive media report.)

   In mid-April, I sent a link to an online survey (more about that later) to 40 athletic directors from schools of various sizes across New York. About a third of them responded, and all said that their school district had not yet approved a resolution to participate in APP, which is probably still general concern No. 1 across the state: They're not required to do so, but school districts and private schools opting not to participate in APP will not be able to promote seventh- and eighth-graders to their JV or varsity teams. As noted above, that situation is changing as the minutes from more and more school board meetings show APP resolutions being adopted, so that issue will solve itself in most cases before fall practice starts.

   Naturally, however, concern No. 2 will start to emerge. According to The Star-Gazette story, districts have started availing themselves of the opportunity to add their own tweaks. Corning, for instance, will not allow seventh-graders to play JV or varsity sports. And young athletes who do pass the APP test will be required to carry an average of 85 or higher in every class -- maybe the strictest standard in the state (there are some districts that pretty much only require students to have a pulse) -- to remain eligible.

   And then there's the process itself. Selection/Classification was by no means simple, but the Athletic Placement Process brings with it added bureaucracy.

   "The biggest difference is going to be the amount of time it's going to take to go through the process," Chatham AD Scott Steltz told The Register-Star. "There are a lot more steps now."

   The Readers Digest version of the process:

  • Obtain written permission from parent/guardian.

  • NYSPHSAA boys lacrosse
  • NYSPHSAA girls lacrosse
  • NYSPHSAA baseball
  • NYSPHSAA softball
  • Past years' brackets

    • The designated athletic admini-strator confirms the student is a suitable candidate. This factors in a likelihood that the student would play in at least 50 percent of the games, evidence he/she performs at or above grade level in the classroom and an assessment of the athlete's emotional readiness to socialize with older students.
    • Confirmation by the district medical director that the student displays appropriate physical maturity to compete at that level. The evaluation uses the Tanner Scale, with the score cross-referenced against the APP maturity chart that lists recommended scores for each sport and level.
    • Sport-skill evaluation in which the appropriate coach signs off (based upon past personal observations and input from the student's former coaches) that the student is suitable for consideration.
    • The President's Physical Fitness Test: A certified physical education teacher -- who is not a coach in the student's sport -- administers the test. The student must score in the 85th percentile level (i.e., the top 15 percent) for their age in four out of five tests. Swimmers get a different test (a timed mile walk/run or a 500-yard swim), and bowlers and golfers are exempt.
    • A qualification determination, in which the athletic director certifies that the student has passed all parts of the APP, gives the student the OK to attend tryouts.
    • ADs must share the list of their successful APP applicants (including their scores) with their counterparts at competitor schools and their athletic governing bodies.
       If that looks daunting, it's only because it is daunting. I've already heard of one school that had five girls apply for APP approval -- and all none made it through the process.

       So which varsity athletes and sports are most likely to be most affected by the switch to APP? Most of the athletic directors who responded to my unscientific survey cited girls soccer, competitive cheerleading and softball -- perhaps confirming my hunch that the changes will affect girls more than boys.

       Cross country -- a sport in which younger girls frequently succeed -- and boys basketball were also flagged, as was wrestling. Wrestling could be especially dicey since a lot of varsity teams rely upon junior-high athletes in the lower weight classes. You wouldn't expect the better wrestlers to have trouble with the President's Physical Fitness Test, but other standards (classroom performance, etc.) could be their undoing.

       Looking for more information? Follow these links:

       ESM appoints new AD: Central Square's Mike Clonan will become the athletic director at East Syracuse Minoa when Bob Campese retires in June 20, reported.

       Clonan served four years as AD at Central Square after two years in that role at Syracuse Fowler.

       Campese is the long-time chairman of Section 3 football. He was an assistant principal at ESM for nine years and AD the last two.

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