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HAMMOCK: Solution needed to help students-athletes like Sackett, GHSA

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

To a lesser degree than her family and friends I’m sure, my heart hurt for Rachel Sackett last week. It still does.

The Mill Creek sophomore went to bed Thursday night thinking the Georgia House of Representatives had overwhelmingly passed a bill named in her honor that would have allowed athletes like her, who go to charter schools, to compete for their local high school sports teams. It appeared the Rachel Sackett Act was a Nathan Deal signature away from approval.

But then the news came that her bill didn’t make it through, wiped out as the clock neared midnight in a flurry of legislation. Just like that, Sackett’s fight to play high school sports was dealt a major blow.

There are intense arguments on both sides of the charter school issue, with the Georgia High School Association (and many other high school officials) standing by its view that high school athletics should be part of a high school’s community, or only to kids who go to that high school. It’s certainly a point to consider — how much does this open up charter school students taking spots from regular students at high schools they don’t even attend.

Another issue to ponder is how this could impact a state already plagued by high school athletes transferring schools. Say a charter school opens in a school district — for example, let’s just say Wheeler in Cobb County — and the charter school happens to be predominantly basketball players from the same AAU team. Who all happen to be eligible to play at Wheeler if the GHSA allowed charter school students to play for high school teams in their district.

That said, what about students like Sackett? Should she be penalized for fear of how others will bend the rules? I don’t think she should.

Look more into Sackett’s story and you’ll see more of where she’s coming from. She was the leading scorer as a freshman for Mill Creek’s club lacrosse team, which doesn’t play under the GHSA umbrella, but when the Hawks moved from club competition to the GHSA this season, Sackett was no longer eligible.

What hurts the most is Sackett is in this position because of her academic drive. An honor student at Glenn Jones Middle, she was encouraged by her counselors to attend the prestigious Gwinnett School for Mathematics, Science and Technology, an arm of the Gwinnett County Public School system that doesn’t offer athletics. She ranks fifth academically in the GSMST sophomore class with a perfect GPA and flourishes in her school, but she can’t play at Mill Creek (like her twin brother does) because GHSA rules don’t allow it.

Sackett could be eligible to play lacrosse right now if she dropped out of GSMST and went to Mill Creek. But should she be challenged less academically just so she can play sports? Is it fair to make a high school sophomore choose between school and sports? You can bet there are other GSMST students who would love to participate in high school sports, too.

A blanket rule that will satisfy the GHSA and charter school students like Sackett doesn’t exist at this point, yet a middle-ground solution should be pursued to remedy situations like the one Sackett faces.

The GHSA could allow certain athletes like Sackett to be eligible for high school teams, but only if the institution is on a list of charter schools approved by the GHSA. It would seem like the GSMST would be on an approved list, since it’s officially part of the GCPS school system and doesn’t offer athletics.

Maybe with that plan a truce could be reached and Rachel Sackett wouldn’t be denied a major part of high school — a chance to play a school sport with your friends.

Will Hammock can be reached via email at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, visit www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.