By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer
ANDERSON TWP. - Starting this fall, Nagel Middle School's eighth-grade football and boys and girls basketball teams will be divided according to high school attendance areas.
The school feeds into both of the district's high schools.
The decision, approved Monday night by the Forest Hills Board of Education, split the board 3-2 and overruled Superintendent John Patzwald's recommendation to keep integrated teams while working to improve middle school sports programs next school year.
The hotly debated issue stems from concerns about improving the quality of athletics and creating more parity between Anderson and Turpin high school teams.
Seventh- and eighth-graders were once housed at the high schools, but because of overcrowding, Nagel Middle School was opened in 1999.
About 1,300 students attend Nagel, and then move on to their respective high schools.
Nagel has more than one eighth-grade football team, depending on the number of boys who try out..
Supporters say dividing teams according to high school attendance areas at the middle school will better prepare them for high school athletics.
"The longer the teams work together, the more successful they are," said Thomas Armstrong, a parent of three Forest Hills students.
Nagel is not delivering the kind of athletes that the high school athletic departments want, he added.
"What is best for Nagel is not necessarily what is best for the district as a whole," Armstrong said.
But most of the nine speakers at the board meeting favored keeping the seventh- and eighth-grade teams integrated.
"We've built one of the top middle schools in the nation, and now a few people want to split it down the middle in the sports category," said Teresa Truesdell, a Nagel parent.
Julie Ayers, another Nagel parent, said she firmly believes athletics should never drive policies in an environment where children are sent to learn.
"Remember what we're here for," she said.
Natalie Tyson and Amy Hayden, Nagel eighth-graders this fall and active in sports, appealed to the board to keep integrated teams.
Natalie said some of her best friends are Turpin-bound students whom she wouldn't have met if it hadn't been for sports. "Isn't having strong friendships more important than having strong sports teams?" Natalie asked.
"Why create a rivalry that doesn't need to exist?" Amy added.
In his recommendation, Patzwald suggested keeping the integrated teams with efforts to increase communication between the middle and high school athletic programs. If after a year the integrated program wasn't successful, he would call for modification.
Board member Richard Neumann suggested the two-year pilot program of attendance-district segregation for certain eighth-grade teams in the 2003-04 and 2004-05 school years.
Seventh-grade teams will remain integrated. Members Winifred Clayton and Harry Andreadis voted with Neumann. Eric Okerson and Forest Heis voted no.
Clayton quoted excerpts from a letter written by Michael Hall, then Anderson High School principal,to his Turpin counterpart last June.
Hall noted his concern about the athletic skills of incoming ninth-graders, and that if the situation wasn't addressed, he predicted a significant downturn in athletic programs within five years.
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