When Jenna Knapp of Des Moines, Iowa, recently accompanied her 12-year-old son to an interstate Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball tournament in Indianapolis, she was taken aback to see that many of the athletes were larger than her son. And not just by a little bit. "There was a huge difference," recalls Knapp. Curious as to why, Knapp started chatting up some of the other parents. "That's when it was brought to my attention that it's pretty common now to reclass your child,” she says.
Reclassing or reclassifying is the process of opting to hold a child back a year in high school or middle school, so they'll have an edge athletically by being taller, larger, or more skilled than their peer group.
Holding kids back to give them extra time to mature cognitively and socially is nothing new. Redshirting in kindergarten has been studied for decades. (The term is borrowed from redshirting in college sports, the well-known practice of postponing a student's official participation on a team to give the athlete a chance to mature physically. It's sanctioned by the coach and the team.) But it is a bit more controversial when young kids without any notable academic or social impediments are repeating grades simply to gain a leg up in sports.
In reclassing, it’s usually the parents taking the initiative to hold the child back. Schools and districts may vary on rules regarding whether or not administrators have to sign off on permitting a child to repeat a grade. But even when a principal has the right of refusal and doesn’t allow reclassing, determined parents can take matters into their own hands and simply switch schools. Some have done just that.
How Common is Reclassing?
Putting the trend into perspective, Kevin Bruce Blackistone, a sports journalist and frequent ESPN commentator, won’t call it “widespread” but acknowledges that there has been a recent uptick in its usage in youth sports. “It’s become used more and more in the past five, six, seven years,” says Blackistone, a professor at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism of the University of Maryland.
This surge is likely because promising athletes want to increase their odds of securing spots on select college teams and receiving generous sports scholarships. The media exposure from playing on high-profile college teams, which can lead to lucrative professional careers, may also be fueling the trend.