Parents, educators debate merits of redshirting for academic or athletic reasons

Holding children back controversial issue

INDIANAPOLIS - Parents of school-aged children might notice some kids in their child's grade are bigger and older than the others, often because of a growing trend known as redshirting.

The term has traditionally been used to describe a college athlete who sits out a year to gain a year of eligibility, but the meaning has been transformed.

Redshirting now happens frequently early in a child's academic career, delaying a 5-year-old's school start for a year, often because of sports.

Jordan Huxford, of Fishers, is a redshirt. He's currently in first grade, unlike most 7-year-olds, because he went to a private kindergarten one year and a public kindergarten the next year.

Jordan's parents, Rachel and J.T. Huxford, said they held him back for academics, maturity and athletics. Jordan plays baseball and golf.

"I felt he was on the short side, so I wanted him to be ahead of the game in all aspects," Rachel Huxford said. "It's not necessarily the best thing at the moment, because right now, he is figuring out he's older and he's different than everybody else. However, in the future, it's going to be really great for him."

"I played sports growing up, and it definitely would have helped me," J.T. Huxford said.

Jacqueline Blackwell, an early childhood education professor at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis, objects to redshirting young children.

"I think everyone is concerned about 'success of the child starts now,' and some see it as cumulative," Blackwell said. "If my child is not successful here, then the next year, my child is not successful."

There are few statistics on the issue, primarily anecdotal evidence.

Many people point to a study from the U.S. Department of Education that found the number of kindergartners older than age 5 increased 300 percent from 1970 to 2009.

As an AAU coach, former Indiana University basketball standout and head coach Dan Dakich said redshirting is common among star athletes.

"It's certainly more prevalent. I had never heard of it back in 1980, when my father mentioned it," Dakich said. "I hear about it all the time now."

Dakich started his son, Andrew, in kindergarten late.

"We felt like it would be far better for him in all areas, including academics and including athletics," Dakich said.

Now a senior at Zionsville Community High School, Andrew is older than most of his friends, but he's happy about it.

"I've never regretted it one time," Andrew said.

Dakich emphasized that he didn't redshirt Andrew solely for athletic reasons, but he sat out a year of school between his junior and senior years so he could return a better and older basketball player.

"It was the difference for me maybe not playing in college and playing at Indiana University," Dakich said.

Indiana High School Athletic Association Commissioner Bobby Cox said the organization doesn't keep statistics to determine if the senior class is getting older, but there is a rule that once a child enters high school, the child has four consecutive years of eligibility, meaning the kind of redshirting Dakich did would no longer be possible.

Redshirting as a kindergartner is a way to get around the rule.

"I think some parents who are savvy might know that would be an opportunity for them," Cox said.

Blackwell is concerned about the message redshirting sends to the child.

"I don't want to equate being larger or the oldest in a room with being the best prepared," she said. "Are we setting children up for failure?"

Dakich said some children are predestined for sports.

"People can say what they want, 'Well, you don't know what they're going to be.' Well, I knew at 5. I can remember crying when I was 5 because I wasn't 7 and couldn't play Little League baseball, so I knew Andrew was going to be sports-oriented," Dakich said.

Jordan aspires to be a good baseball player.

"He said he wants to play baseball in college," Rachel Huxford said. "We'll see."

Increased confidence is one of the most important benefits Rachel, J.T. and Dan said they see from redshirting.

"It gives him confidence he may not have being the youngest, the smallest, the least athletic," J.T. Huxford said.

"We talk about it all the time, 'Man, if Andrew had to go to college now, he wouldn't be nearly as ready,'" Dakich said. "It's giving him an opportunity. What he does with it is up to him."

"I feel it's definitely one of the best decisions I've made in my entire life," Rachel Huxford said.

Cox is not in favor of redshirting, but he said he repeated the fifth grade for several reasons. He was an athlete and got an athletic scholarship to go to college. Cox credits being bigger and older with helping him get that scholarship.

Redshirting is far more common for boys. Dakich did not redshirt his daughter and the Huxfords don't plan to redshirt their 4-year-old daughter.
 

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