Chicago Public Schools is expanding its elementary school sports program districtwide.

The program includes a variety of seasonal sports for students in grades five through eight. Coaches will not cut players from their teams and will ensure minimum playing time for all players. Teachers will serve as coaches, and CPS will work with the Park District to hire more coaches as needed.

The pilot program last year involved 19 CPS schools.

“I can’t say enough about this program. My students were more focused and did better on assessments and in their classes,” said Sandee McDonald, principal at Thomas A. Hendricks Elementary Community Academy, one of the schools in the pilot program.

McDonald also said her students had fewer infractions and became more willing to collaborate.

CPS chief Forrest Claypool said he believes that elementary school sports participation should be about “having fun” as well as competition. He said one of the main goals of the program is to create more mentoring opportunities for at-risk youth.

“This is an opportunity to get kids involved in their community,” he said. “And to let them engage with other students and teachers that they might have not otherwise.”

The program is funded, in part, by the Children’s First Fund,.

Games and competitions will be held on Saturdays at high schools. Players will be given free breakfast and a chance to compete against fellow students.

The program will begin in January with the boys and girls basketball.

“Elementary school is the time to discover and nurture students’ talents,” McDonald said. “I believe we need to meet our students where they are and help them as much as we can.”