Published Online: April 30, 1997

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That incredible story about Michael Jordan is true.

As a sophomore at Emsley A. Laney High School in Wilmington, N.C., in 1979, a 5-foot-10-inch Michael was cut from the varsity basketball team. His 6-foot-8-inch buddy, Leroy Smith, was the only sophomore to make the team that year. Participate in our new interactive TOWN MEETING, an electronic roundtable on improving schools

The omission, the king of professional basketball has admitted in interviews, made him weep.

Lucky for the sport that Mr. Jordan never gave up, because for every spurned athlete like him who perseveres, many others, embarrassed and brokenhearted, quit school sports for good.

That problem has led schools across the country to adopt no-cut athletics policies in which all students who go out for sports get a chance to play at either a competitive level or a less competitive, intramural level. The effort is particularly timely, experts say, because youths have never been more sedentary.

"These are great programs that don't take competition too seriously," said Art Taylor, the associate director of the Center for Sports in Society at Northeastern University in Boston. "No-cut policies offer kids a tremendous opportunity to stay active and develop skills in sports they can play for a lifetime."

Although experts don't know exactly how many schools have adopted no-cut policies, they say that more schools, especially at the elementary and middle levels, are adopting the ''come one, come all'' guidelines.

Middle schools in St. Charles, Ill., for example, have had a no-cut policy in place since 1991, and today more than half of the district's middle schoolers participate in either the school's competitive or club sports."Our policy keeps kids of all skill levels playing sports," said Rich Duensing, the athletic director at the 740-student Haines Middle School in St. Charles.

Are no-cut sports the wave of the future for schools?

So far, the biggest barriers to no-cut programs tend to be funding and other resources: No-cut teams require more coaches and referees, more uniforms and equipment, and more fields, courts, mats, and rinks.

Judith Young, the executive director of the Reston, Va.-based National Association for Sports and Physical Education, said schools that can afford to expand their offerings shouldn't be picking one program over another.

Ideally, she said, all schools would be able to offer both competitive sports for highly skilled athletes as well as intramurals. "If you like playing basketball, but don't strive to be an elite in that sport, there are still good reasons you should play."

--KERRY A. WHITE kwhite@epe.org

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