Jacksonville Middle School will have a new sport to offer all students next fall. The Jacksonville School District Board unanimously approved a partnership between the district and the Jacksonville Area Youth Football League on Thursday for Jacksonville Middle School to have a football program for 7th and 8th graders.
Jacksonville High School Football Head Coach Mark Grounds presented the proposal to the board. Grounds, who is also the Dean of Students at the high school, says the football program would help middle school students transition to high school by learning how to be accountable for academics and actions at a younger age: “Without being involved [in extracurricular activities], we are having a lot of trouble academically and discipline-wise across all areas. This connection to the school with these students, it creates some relationships with the coaches to the school, number one, so then, discipline issues which they are not privy to would have the ability to be addressed and proper behavior and proper past modeled from day one. Academic interventions, which we do at the high school, which has helped our ineligibility tremendously, would be implemented at an earlier age. That will help the overall climate of the middle school.”
Grounds says the goal is to have about 80 kids between both grades and help create a culture of connections to others. Grounds believes that the football program will have effects beyond just football, but also provide venues for the middle school band, middle school dance team, and cheerleading all to perform and have a homecoming.
Superintendent Steve Ptacek says he ultimately recommended the program for approval because of it being a motivating factor for students to perform well in the classroom and improve as human beings: “A couple things they told me about the limitations that they have right now in JAYFL, being able to use sports as that motivational carrot to get kids to come to school, to get good grades – that when it is JFL and not connected to the school, it loses some of that ability to motivate students. That’s what sold me on this program.”
Grounds says that JMS will likely play similar middle school programs within the Central State 8 conference in Springfield, Decatur, Quincy, and Rochester. The JAYFL will merge with the Crimson Pride organization to help facilitate some of the operations. Grounds says the schedule will be built around the JMS baseball season so it won’t interfere with their games so kids can compete on both teams if they wish. Some costs, coaching and stipends, district insurance, game-day transportation for approximately 4 away games are still pending questions that Grounds will be working out.
Grounds says the JMS football team will always be about teaching students to play the game and not necessarily winning. He says it will allow for the upward articulation of skills for future football, academic, and life skill success.