Students at Crossville Christian School will have the opportunity to participate in Cumberland County Schools middle school athletic programs this year.

The Cumberland County Board of Education approved a cooperative agreement with the school that allows students at Crossville Christian to play sports on middle school teams associated with Stone Memorial High School.

“To begin with, I had some qualms about this,” Jim Inman, 1st District representative, told the board. “I worried it was going to open up Pandora’s Box. If we went with one, we’d have several more knocking on the door.”

But when Inman learned state law mandates that schools must allow homeschooled students to try out for school athletic teams, he changed his opinion.

“I don’t believe we should treat the private schools any differently than we would a homeschooled child,” Inman said.

When the athletic committee discussed the agreement, it had voted to forward the request to the board without a recommendation. That was Inman’s motion.

“But I will change that now,” he said. “I move to approve this co-op on a yearly basis.”

Robert Safdie, 2nd District representative, supported the motion. 

The request followed a decision by the board earlier in the year to grant a one-year exception to a Crossville Christian School student to play baseball with the middle school team. The player had been found ineligible because his private school did not have a co-op agreement in place, but that finding came after he had spent several months practicing with the team. 

The agreement would only apply to sports that use a middle school team format: football, baseball, golf, softball, soccer, golf and volleyball. In these programs, feeder schools for each high school form one team. SMHS feeder schools are North Cumberland, Stone, Crab Orchard, Pine View and Homestead elementary schools.

Individual schools still field their own elementary basketball teams. The agreement would not allow Crossville Christian School students to play basketball without a co-op agreement with a specific feeder school.

Tony Brock, 5th District representative, asked if the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association permitted co-op agreements with private schools at the high school level. Dean Patton, countywide athletic director, said private schools could apply, but he was not aware of any that had been granted in the state.

“It does present a bit of a recruiting situation when you get to high school that could be taken advantage of,” Patton said. 

He said the one-year term of the agreement allowed the school system to monitor the situation for any recruiting concerns.

Crossville Christian School does not serve high school students. The agreement only applies to middle school sports. 

Josh Stone, 4th District representative, said the county had elected not to join the state middle school athletic association. 

“At high school, we are subject to TSSAA rules. At the middle school level, we are not,” he said. “We have decided up to this point to govern ourselves … We don’t have to answer to anybody but ourselves and the people of this community.”

Teresa Boston, 8th District representative, suggested the agreement expire June 30, 2020, with the board to consider action on the agreement at its June meeting. Middle school football teams begin practice following the mandated dead period in July. 

The agreement was unanimously approved.

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.

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