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Students in grades 6-8 are back on the field, court, mat and track this year, with the return of athletics to Eagle Ridge and Nicollet middle schools.

Students in grades 6-8 are back on the field, court, mat and track this year, with the return of athletics to Eagle Ridge and Nicollet middle schools.

Through last spring’s budget process, District 191 prioritized the return of middle school athletics after a four-year absence due to budget shortfalls. More than 120 students participated in soccer, cross-country and girls’ tennis this fall. Basketball and wrestling return to the winter season, and track and field and boys’ tennis will be back in the spring. 

a group of Nicollet Middle School girls tennis players

"Students and parents told us middle school activities were important to them and we're happy to be able to offer them again,” Nicollet Middle School Assistant Principal and Activities Director Jay Lepper said. “We're very pleased that the district listened to families and took their feedback to heart.” 

Lepper and other school leaders are proponents of middle school sports because of the many benefits for students, including helping them build skills in collaboration, goal-setting, time management and discipline. 

“Often, the activity is a primary reason for a student’s success in school,” Eagle Ridge Principal Dave Helke said. “The great thing is learning continues through all of the activities students are able to participate in.”

Nicollet has adopted the “Phoenix Way” as a holistic approach to activities that prioritizes academics and promotes positive student behaviors. It encourages students to learn what it means to be a good teammate and builds on the social-emotional learning they experience during the school day.

“The Phoenix Way extends to how you carry yourself in the classroom, on the bus to away games and meets, and in all aspects of your life and is something that our coaches and advisors work hard to develop,” Lepper said. “From a social aspect, you are talking about students with a common interest coming together and becoming a group or team and building a bond together and a bond to the school beyond the classroom setting.”

That bond is also forged through games and events that bring the community into the schools.

“Another significant benefit of middle school activities is the community that it builds and the pride it builds across students and families in our school,” Helke said. “In addition to the students participating in the activity, this is built through other students coming to events and competitions to see their peers and encouraging them and celebrating with them.”

There was plenty to celebrate this fall as the cross-country runners improved their times throughout the season and the soccer and tennis teams earned their share of victories.

“I believe our expectations for the fall in year one were exceeded to a great degree,” Lepper said.

In addition to athletics, other middle school activities like Jazz Band, Quiz Bowl and National Junior Honor Society are back at full strength this year after losing in-person events to the COVID-19 pandemic the last two years. Quiz Bowl now has its own middle school team after running in conjunction with the high school team in recent years.

“Our school communities are so proud to have a variety of activities for students. These activities are for students with different passions, such as athletics, theater, fine arts, and leadership,” Helke said. “We are proud that we can offer something for everyone and will continue to encourage more students to be involved.”