Athletics rosters are expanding with young talent at Free State and Lawrence high schools, now that freshmen are enrolled for the first time as full-fledged high schoolers.
As both schools open their athletics seasons this week — the Lions fielded their Fall Sports Jamboree on Wednesday night, while the Firebirds line up this evening — administrators and coaches are counting on additional participation from ninth-graders this season and in the years ahead.
“Our goal is to get as many kids involved in co- and extra-curriculars as possible,” said Mike Hill, Free State athletics director and baseball coach. “It’s very clear what the academic benefit is for those who participate: increased graduation rates, decreased dropout rates and higher grade-point averages.”
So far, he said, numbers are rising.
Ron Commons, LHS athletics director, reports the number of girls participating in cross country is up from last season, a jump attributable in part to more freshmen signing up. A year ago, freshmen were both permitted and encouraged to compete at the high school level in all sports, but simple logistics had gotten in the way.
“It’s a lot more convenient when they can walk right out of their last class and go to practice, rather than have to get here from Southwest or South or Central,” Commons said, referring to last year’s freshmen attending junior highs but competing on high school teams. “Convenience is one of those factors, and transportation is another.”
Teamwork also is taking shape earlier.
“They’re in the hallways and their classes with the same kids they’re competing with,” Hill said. “There’s no Bulldogs vs. Warhawks vs. Mustangs. That’s all out the window now.”
Freshmen either are Firebirds or Lions. One cross-town rivalry is enough.