Middle school feeder basketball teams OK'd

May 6—Proponents of middle school feeder basketball teams for Cumberland County's two high schools have been vocal for the past few months at Board of Education workshops and meetings.

They scored a victory late last month, when the school board voted 5-4 to form girls and boys basketball feeder teams while maintaining those programs at the elementary schools.

"The point is, every other sport in this county has the opportunity to compete at that level," said Nick Davis, 5th District board representative, who made the motion. "Basketball's the only one that we don't."

He added, "The people who want to do it deserve the opportunity to try."

The board decided in June 2023 to affiliate with Tennessee Middle Schools Athletics Association.

Students from North Cumberland, Stone, Homestead, Crab Orchard and Pine View are grouped into feeder teams for Stone Memorial High School, with Cumberland County High School served by feeder teams made up of students from South Cumberland, Martin, Brown and Pleasant Hill.

The decision to keep elementary basketball was based on giving students opportunities to play in the one sport that was self-sustaining due to an overwhelming number of players at each school.

"The first team we had in middle school was football, and that was out of necessity. It wasn't by choice," said Scott Maddox, county athletic director. "We were dealing with the lack of coaches, the lack of participation and safety issues because it was costing our elementary schools a lot of money to recondition helmets, to buy uniforms, to buy equipment. And so we combined teams to do that — out of necessity."

He explained during April's regular school board meeting that softball, volleyball and baseball then followed for the same reason. But that does not hold true for basketball, Maddox said, where interest remains high.

"I would rather see us wait until we have a true middle school," he said. "There's no question what we can do with middle schools with academics, CTE and athletics. But until then, this is not a need. All the other sports was a need."

Maddox added, "This is not a need; this is a want, and we're going to hurt our community with this."

He asked board members to consider what they want from basketball programs in lower grades: opportunities for participation vs. middle school feeder teams that would be more selective.

"If your answer's we want to develop the kids to go into the high school, and you're a data person and you like data, then show me the data of what we're doing with football, volleyball, baseball and softball at both sides," he said. "Show the data where it's improved the play. Show me that data. It has not."

The opportunities feeder teams open up are not necessarily the ones best for the sport, Maddox added.

"What you want to get is like all stars on these two basketball teams; both boys and girls on each side of the county," he said. "I promise you, that's not what you're going to get. You're going to get the kids who can afford, and the parents who can afford, to send these kids to summer camps, to do all these things outside of school, but then you're going to force the kids who are unfortunate and can't do that and don't have the support — they're going to choose to play at their school."

Maddox added, "Some of the best athletes that you have in this county are going to be playing at their school. They're not going to be playing countywide. We think they will; no, they will not."

Davis asked, "Why do you say that? How are we disadvantaging those kids?"

"Those kids don't have the same opportunities," Maddox replied. "They don't have the transportation."

Davis said, "That's what they're doing in high school. What are we doing with the rest of the kids? We're not worried about them right now."

"It's different in high school," Maddox said.

Davis said, "It's not different. It's the same topic."

Logistics were also cited by Maddox as being a problem, with overlapping seasons and practices.

He wondered aloud where the four teams would practice.

"In one of the nine gyms, two of the nine gyms that we have," Davis replied. "Or two of the 11 gyms that we have."

"Are you talking about at night?" Maddox asked.

Davis replied, "When it's available," to which Maddox responded, "It would have to be late at night."

Board Chairwoman Teresa Boston, 8th District, acknowledged the bumps that would come with developing the middle school basketball feeder program.

"But this is going to give both those who possibly — they eat, sleep and thrive on basketball — those students the ability to compete outside Cumberland County," she said. "And it also allows those elementary teams to keep those students who do not have the opportunity to play travel ball. They've not developed their skills, but they want to play. This allows both parties — all the students — to be able to participate at their particular level."

Middle school feeder team supporters approached the board at an athletics, arts and activities committee meeting in March, just after Director of Schools William Stepp decided to continue with the elementary basketball programs for the 2024-25 school year. Davis is chairman of that committee.

Maddox told the board Stepp received many phone calls and visits from people on the opposing side thanking him for the decision.

He also relayed a conversation he had on the subject with Richard McWhirter, who oversees TMSAA.

"He told me he would always support what we were doing in Cumberland County as far as the way we have it set up because of our girls who advanced this year," Maddox said. "He said if I've got a basketball team that's got five feeder schools coming into it, when they make it to high school, I've got 50 kids that's going to try out for my varsity basketball team. He said now, what you're going to have is those two countywide teams, you're going to get those whatever, 12 players, 15 players, they're the ones who are going to move up and play, but I want the 50 people trying out because those skillsets, they grow, they develop during that time."

Davis said adding opportunities like flag football helps open possibilities for students who might want to pursue athletics. The middle school basketball teams fit into that mission, he added.

"We're handcuffing these kids by not allowing them to do it," he added.

Davis' motion was to create the middle school teams was seconded by Elizabeth Stull, 1st District. They were joined by Boston; Robert Safdie, 2nd District; and Becky Hamby, 7th District.

Both Safdie and Hamby qualified their votes. Safdie said he voted yes because he wants to see the plan and noted that the board can reverse its position if the program doesn't work.

Hamby, who initially passed, had a long pause before she voted in the affirmative.

"I'm really torn about this, I'll just tell you," she said. "I would love to see this plan come together. What I want to know is if it falls flat on its face ...?

"I'm going to go ahead and vote yes, but I am voting yes with lots of reservations. Lots of reservations."

Voting against the measure were board members Sheri Nichols, 3rd District; Anita Hale, 4th District; Chris King, 6th District; and Shannon Stout, 9th District.

"I know this is going to be a struggle," said Boston to Stepp after the vote. "Can you make this work?"

"I have to make it work if the board votes on it," Stepp replied. "That's my job."

Contact Cheryl Duncan at or 931-484-5145.