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New sports league eases transition for middle school students

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

by Naveed Ahsan

Research shows that the middle school years can be a tough time for children.

A new athletic association has been helping these students navigate through this critical period. It’s called the Metropolitan Philadelphia Athletic Association (MPAA), an athletic league mostly devoted to charter schools that focuses on the role of athletics in character, social and educational development among disenfranchised youth, including students with special needs.

The MPAA was officially launched in September by American Paradigm Schools, a nonprofit educational management organization.

Though sports programs are available in charter schools, American Paradigm CEO Stacey Cruise said, the MPAA was designed to allow middle school students to compete in a variety of sports that otherwise might not be available to them. Cruise said she believes taking part in the league will help students enhance their leadership skills, giving them more opportunities to excel in college and beyond.

Middle school “is a critical year for kids,” said Cruise, “and through sports, we can help middle school students make good decisions and choices” for their futures.

The sports that the MPAA offers for students in grades 5 through 8 include co-ed flag football, soccer, volleyball, track and field, boys’ wrestling, girls’ softball, boys’ baseball, and girls’ and boys’ basketball.

Every weekend, the MPAA also hosts “Super Saturdays,” giving students the chance to take part in alternative or nontraditional sports, including golf, tennis, lacrosse, and ultimate Frisbee. The league also requires participants to perform at least six hours of community service each semester.

About 12 schools now participate in the league, most of them charter schools. Cruise attributed that imbalance to word-of-mouth among the small charter school community and said that the MPAA hopes to expand to a greater variety of schools. She also said that the organization is open to any kind of group that targets middle school students, including community centers.

Participating groups are required to pay a membership fee that is based on the number of sports offered to their students. This fee covers such costs as referees, Super Saturdays, and other events and activities.

MPAA commissioner Michael Poploski said that through athletic engagement, students can “build a positive mindset, while also increasing athletic achievement.”

“I’ve seen kids with behavior issues become positive leaders by staying active and playing sports.”

Naveed Ahsan is an intern at the Notebook.

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