For the first time in 26 years, the pads are popping on local middle school football fields this spring. After Tacoma Public Schools announced late last summer that football would again be offered in the spring – among several other changes in an ongoing effort to strengthen middle school programs – nine local schools hit the field on March 4 to prepare for the upcoming season.
“I think this is a great opportunity for middle school kids to feel special,” said Jamila Jones, the recently named head coach at First Creek Middle School. “The best part of it is (kids) are buying in to everything that’s not football – how they should walk, how they should talk and what kind of example they should be. It’s been awesome.”
Baker, Giaudrone, Gray, Jason Lee, Mason, Meeker, Stewart and Truman middle schools will join First Creek in the new season, which will begin with a jamboree between all the teams at Mount Tahoma Stadium on March 23 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The first slate of regular season games is set for March 28.
After going through a few years of budget issues, the return of football – along with offering of girls cross country in the fall – was made possible in part by Tacoma Public School’s collaboration with a number of advertising sponsors.
“All of those people have really helped us get back and allow these programs,” said Jennifer Kubista, Tacoma Public Schools director of student life.
Kubista added that since she was hired in 2003, it has been an ongoing effort with district and school officials to continue to strengthen and expand athletic programs. But she noted that bringing back football is somewhat of a landmark because of its unique importance among student athletes. “It was probably one of the best moments I’ve ever had in my career,” she said, “because I knew we were going to be bringing back something that was pretty special.”
In addition to the two new sports offered this year, the district announced that all middle school sports would be moving to the high school model – with a varsity, junior varsity and ‘C’ team. All sports will also be allowed to practice five days per week instead of four.
With a contact sport like football again being offered at a younger age, both Kubista and Jones noted that the impact will also be felt at the high school level.
“I’m amazed at how many kids come to high school with the lack of fundamentally sound football,” Jones said. “I think this middle school component will help high school programs get that boost…overall I think that will make programs better.”
Not only that, but the impact that the sport should have, and the lessons learned, should have an impact in the classroom.
“The academics is first and foremost,” Kubista said.
And Jones agreed, noting that he is already seeing the impact after one week of practice.
“I got an email from a teacher the other day – football players are teaching class,” he said. “A football player broke up a fight. (These are) things that I hadn’t been hearing.”
And while he hopes to see positive results on the field this spring, Jones hopes even more positive results will be seen down the road. “I want to win football games, but ultimately I want to send high schools kids who understand what it means to be a high school student athlete.”