The proposal

The Charleston County School District is exploring the possibility of offering athletic programs at its middle schools.

Who would be able to play on middle school teams? Seventh- and eighth-graders

What sports would be offered? All sports offered by the S.C. High School League

Who would coach the teams? Charleston County school employees

Where would they play? Ideally, at the middle schools. Practices and games would fall under the same guidelines for high schools.

How much could this cost? Up to $1.5 million

Charleston County School District

The Charleston County School District relies on organizations and recreation departments to offer athletic programs to its middle school students, but that could be changing.

District leaders are exploring the possibility of creating a sports program that they would run in middle schools. All sports offered by the S.C. High School League would be available, and seventh- and eighth-graders would be eligible to participate. The High School League covers grades 7-12.

“There’s a lot of discussion, but there’s nothing that anyone has written in stone,” said Dave Spurlock, the district’s athletic director.

Launching the program could cost as much as $1.5 million, and officials aren’t sure how they would pay for it. Some of the costs could be covered by admissions fees to competitions. Expenses include equipment, athletic trainers, administrative support, security coverage and field and gym maintenance.

High school athletic directors would be responsible for their feeder middle schools, and teams would be coached by district employees.

The proposal has been presented to the district’s principals, but it hasn’t been shown to the superintendent or to the school board, which would have to approve this kind of expense. It is unlikely that any changes would be implemented until after the 2013-14 school year, Spurlock said.

“These kinds of things take time, and you’ve got to get a lot of people to agree and to understand what it is,” he said.

School districts aren’t required to offer middle school athletic programs, and the availability of those varies among districts. Berkeley County has looked into possibly offering middle school athletics, but it is cost-prohibitive at this time, said district spokeswoman Susan Haire.

Dorchester 2 started a middle school program about five years ago, and district spokeswoman Pat Raynor said it has been “hugely popular” with families. All middle schools offer sports, such as football, baseball, softball and volleyball.

Children don’t pay to participate, and the district’s budget has a “small” allocation for the program, she said. Most of the program’s costs are covered by admission fees at sporting events, she said.

In Charleston County, officials have toyed with the idea for a couple years, and Spurlock asked a group of athletic directors to write a proposal this fall. They have talked with recreation department officials and the Trident Basketball Association, which is a basketball league with more than 1,600 middle-schoolers.

Some students can’t afford to participate in the “pay-to-play” middle school athletic system, and it doesn’t give district employees control over those athletes, officials said.

The next step will be to ask middle school principals and high school athletic directors to look more closely at the proposal’s feasibility.

“They’re interested in sports ... because it lends to the community and identity of schools,” Spurlock said.

Other than recreational leagues and the Trident Basketball Association, the only other option for middle school students has been high schools’ junior varsity and B teams. One of the organizers of the Trident Basketball Association declined comment on the district’s proposal.

Richard Luden, the athletic director at West Ashley High, supports the concept of sports programs in middle schools. No one is trying to eliminate or prevent the existing organizations from offering middle school athletics, he said.

“The more opportunities there are for kids at the middle-school level and the more accountability there is for grades, the less trouble they get into,” he said. “It allows the coach of the high school that those programs feed into to have involvement with the coaching that’s going on with those kids.”

Some have criticized the district’s plans, saying they have been drafted without the community’s input and they could potentially penalize kids by forcing them to play in recreational leagues that are less competitive.

“What bothers me is that this is something that has been worked on behind the scenes for a few years,” said Steve Meyers, a volunteer coach for the Trident association who also coaches travel-league teams and conducts basketball camps. “They are going to push kids into recreation league programs that are just not as competitive as what they’re getting right now. ... I’m just trying to make sure everyone knows what’s coming.”

Jeff Hartsell contributed to this report. Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.