8th graders excel in JV sports teams


Cole Parker

Eighth grade junior varsity ultimate frisbee player Ethan Rehg plays defense against a North Atlanta opponent on Mar. 3. The Gauntlet beat the Warriors 9-7, making a comeback in the second half.

Cole Parker

For most student-athletes, after the bell rings, they either have to travel a short distance or they have a good amount of time before their practice starts. This does not apply for Ethan Rehg, an eighth grader at Inman who plays on the Grady junior varsity ultimate frisbee team.

“Making it to JV practice on time can be difficult for us eighth graders because we only have twenty-five minutes to get directly from Inman to our practice fields, which are a good distance away,” Rehg said.

Many Grady sports teams recruit eighth graders to play for the JV program “to develop future talent,” according to head JV ultimate frisbee coach Howard Tong.

Despite the difficulties of making it to practice on time, most eighth graders who have the opportunity to play at a higher level know the experience benefits them as players.

“Playing on a team made up of older guys has forced me to step up my game,” Rehg said. “Now, I can outplay many of my peers whenever we get together to play pick-up games of ultimate.”

Tong agrees.

“I think being in an environment of better players helps the eighth graders understand what good ultimate should look like,” Tong said. “On JV, we run more sophisticated strategies than they would see in a middle school league.”

Dillon Hurlburt, an eighth grader at Inman who plays on the Grady JV baseball team, also attributes much of his improvement to playing with a higher level of players.

“I feel like my batting has improved and my hands are faster when fielding; this comes from playing with and against highly competitive players,” Hurlburt said.

For some eighth graders, it can be difficult for them to stand out on a team made up of older players.

“It is a little hard to compete due to the age difference, and obviously they could be better and stronger than me,” eighth grade JV ultimate frisbee player Jory Van Welie said. “In the end, it drives me to want to do my best and show that I can help the team.”

The process for recruiting eighth graders varies among sports. For ultimate frisbee, eighth graders were invited to practice with the JV team for a certain amount of days during which they were evaluated by coaches.

“This season we had six eighth graders try out,” Tong said. “Honestly, the process is kind of hectic because we do not know how many players we will drop after varsity makes their cuts. In the end, we decided that we would like to have a few extra players so we took Max Brenner, Ethan Rehg and Jory Van Welie. I was most impressed by these three at tryouts because they each bring unique strengths, whether it be field awareness, athleticism or throwing ability.”

In contrast, for baseball, eighth graders were evaluated at their Inman practices by Grady coaches. Hurlburt enjoyed this process because he was able to play in his strongest position alongside his teammates.

“It was a great experience,” Hurlburt said. “The Grady baseball coaches came to an Inman practice at Walden [Athletic Complex], and they evaluated us playing at our regular positions.”

For the JV ultimate frisbee team, the eighth graders are already proving to have a beneficial impact, says Tong.

“The biggest impact that the eighth graders have had on the team is the energy that they bring,” Tong said. “You can tell that they are all very excited to be playing on a high school team, and they work hard at practice.”