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ANCHORAGE - The rules concerning Alaska high school sports just got tougher.
The Alaska School Activities Association board of directors voted Monday to overhaul athletic eligibility and academic rules.
The bylaw changes, if ratified at the board's May meeting, will take effect with the new school year in the fall - a timeline that has raised some concerns. Beginning then, high school athletes will no longer be allowed to use the increasingly popular fifth-year-senior status or transfer during the summer without moving.
High school athletes also will face stricter educational requirements if they hope to keep playing sports.
"I want ASAA to be seen as a leader, and I think we did that today," said Todd Arndt, the Anchorage School District's supervisor of high school education and ASAA's Region IV representative. "We set some high standards for kids in athletics."
The board eliminated the summer transfer rule, which allowed students to transfer during the summer from one school to another within Alaska and remain eligible without a change of residence. Students who transfer during the school year without a parental move will have to sit out a semester before becoming eligible to compete, as they do now.
The board voted to limit students to eight consecutive semesters of eligibility after they begin the ninth grade.
Regarding academic guidelines, ASAA voted to require students to:
Pass five semester units the previous semester, up from four.
Be enrolled in five semester units during the season, also up from four.
Have a C or 2.0 grade-point average for the previous semester, up from "passing," or a D-minus.
Maintain a 2.0 GPA during the season of eligibility for the first quarter, first semester, third quarter and second semester.
The academic standards apply not just to athletics but to activities such as fine arts, music, debate and cheerleading - anything that has a state-level competition.
Craig activities director Doug Rhodes, who is the Southeast representative on the ASAA board, said the academic changes were recommended to the board as the consensus of superintendents and school boards around the state.
Several of the changes will have no impact at Juneau-Douglas High School, since activities guidelines already require students to maintain 2.0 GPAs to participate. The transfer revisions have little impact now, but that could change once the second high school opens.
Others - like the five-class and fifth-year senior rules - may have major ramifications. JDHS underclassmen are required to take five classes to participate in activities, but seniors are only required to take four. That would change if ASAA changes its bylaws.
"A lot of seniors take four classes so they can work or do another activity, or they may take four AP classes," JDHS activities director Sandi Wagner said.
Whether or not ASAA's changes are a good idea, Wagner said there may be a scramble to implement the new rules in time for next fall.
"We're going to meet and figure out what to do," Wagner said. "Our kids are registering for classes as we speak, and a lot of seniors are planning on taking four classes. We've got some work to do, some decisions to make, and we've got to get information out to the community."
There will be no grandfather clause for the elimination of fifth-year senior eligibility, potentially disrupting long-held plans of juniors or seniors - including some in Juneau.
"I don't think kids should hang around here just to play sports, but I think it's very detrimental to put this into effect right now," Wagner said.
Rhodes said he favored a phase-in of the new rules, but other board members cited years of discussion as the reason to implement the rules right away. Many board members have long pushed for these changes, which align Alaska's eligibility guidelines with many of those in the Lower 48.
Originally, ASAA's fifth-year eligibility rule was written to allow athletes who suffered some kind of hardship - often a medical hardship - the opportunity to recoup a lost season.
The rule later was relaxed to help students who had suffered academically early in their high school career, giving them an opportunity to return to school to complete the credits needed for graduation.
Those students will be able to return to school and complete their studies, but they won't be allowed to compete in sports.
ASAA will collect comments from school districts around the state over the next two months, and the board will weigh those comments when it meets in Wrangell in May to vote on the bylaw changes.
In other action Monday, the ASAA board:
Approved the Juneau-Douglas High School football team's move to the Railbelt Conference starting next fall.
Voted down a proposal to extend the high school football season from eight to nine games.
Voted to re-open bids to host the Class 1A-2A-3A state wrestling tournament. Seward hosted the meet in a railroad terminal last December - the first year of what was supposed to be a three-year run - but complaints about the site caused ASAA to re-open bidding. Seward will be eligible to re-bid to host the tourney.
Awarded the 2006 state softball tournament to Anchorage.
Voted to combine the state soccer seasons into one spring season, eliminating the fall Fairbanks-area season.
Voted down a proposal to align the Class 4A winter wrestling season with the Class 1A-2A-3A fall season - a move that had been strongly supported by the Sitka and Ketchikan wrestling programs. More details on this issue and the ASAA board's decision will appear later this week in the Empire.
The Juneau Empire sports department can be reached at email@example.com.