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January 22, 2013

Commonwealth Football Report #4

CFR Template Turn on any 24-hour news station these days and, within an hour, you can safely bet that you will see an expert discussing the hot topic of the day in very clear black-and-white terms.

It's good for us as viewers.  We like our solutions wrapped up in 30-second sound bites and three-minute interviews.  We like using laymen's terms that make sense to us resolving complicated issues in one or two sentences.  Even better if the presenter can make his or her slogan rhyme.

Unfortunately, life gets in the way of that simplicity because simple solutions are rare in a complicated, nuanced world.

Such is the case with a proposal gaining momentum in Henrico County where public school administrators are forging ahead with a plan to raise the minimum grade point average for student-athletes to be eligible to compete.

As it now stands, for a student to be eligible to compete in athletic events, he or she need only to take and pass five subjects per the Virginia High School League rules.

The Henrico School system administration wants to raise the standards for their kids.  The plan is to vote into effect a new standard of maintaining a 2.0 grade point average in order to compete.

Clean.  Simple. Easy.  People like it.

What could possibly be wrong with raising standards?

1. Standards, while easy for some, may not be so easy for others

Personally, I thought that high school was easy academically.  I usually finished my "home" work during my daily study hall, and had little trouble getting good grades.  However, I also had a home life that made the rest of my journey through my teenage years very easy.  Both of my parents were at home, involved in my life and working hard so that I would have more (and better) opportunities than them.  When I got home from school, my responsibilities were, essentially, to have fun and be a teenager.

A couple of years ago, I spoke with a high school coach who had a Division I prospect who was not going to make the cut academically for the NCAA Clearinghouse, the organization that determines whether a high school student is eligible to play collegiate athletics.  The coach described the kid as "extremely bright" and a "high character" individual who routinely scored A's and B's on all of his tests.

Why was he ineligible?  It was due to the fact that he routinely failed to turn in homework assignments which greatly lowered his overall grade in each subject.

Why was that happening?  Was the kid lazy or unmotivated?  No.

The player had no father at home and he lived with his mother who suffered from a rare disease which left her in need of constant care.  During the day and while the player was at football practice, in-home nurses and/or a younger sibling took care of his mother but, once he came through the front door, the responsibility for taking care of the house and looking after his mother fell on him.  Completing any homework assignments was a luxury, not a priority, due to the demands on his time.

Should he and I have been judged on the same standards?  Could I have maintained my grades under the same circumstances?  How many could?

2. Limiting opportunities limits possibilities

The degree and speed to which people mature is quite varied.

Some kids enter high school knowing that they are gearing up for a college education while others don't think that earning a high school degree is possible.  The high school years, for many, can be the formative ones and, one of the catlysts for their maturity is the world of possibilities that opens up before them as they enter high school.  More sports, clubs, classes and subjects all create new doors through which a person can walk.

For others, that happens at the college level as even more opportunities are presented.

While the traditional college route involves four-year universities, other options available to high school graduates include junior colleges and trade schools.  Such programs often allow high school underachievers an alternate route to success.  Many of those schools include athletic programs so they seek out athletes who aren't going the traditional route.  The schools both recruit and offer grant money in the same fashion as the four-year universities.

By limiting a kid's chances to play at the high school level, you also limit his opportunities to be seen by the junior college and trade school recruiters, thus limiting their opportunities to find success at that level.  The pursuit of knowledge at a four-year university is admirable, however, there are other routes that can lead to similar levels of success.

Stories of players who blossomed late by attending military academies or junior colleges are so commonplace now that they are taken for granted.  Remove the high school opportunities and you'll see those stories dry up and turn successful transformations into sad statistics.

3. Athletics is not a "reward"

In reading the comments section of the WRIC article about the Henrico plan, I was not surprised to see that some people believe that sports and other extracurricular activities are "rewards".  After all, those activities are often fun and the highlight of a teenager's day.  The logic stands then that, if we dangle those activities like a carrot in front of them, kids will be motivated to work harder in the classroom to gain their 'reward'.

Having being involved in sports for nearly 40 years, I find marginalizing athletics by comparing their impact to that of a dog treat offensive (and yes, I know that I am being a bit hyperbolic there).  However, athletics is much, much more than a reward.

Athletics creates an environment where kids can be taught a number of valuable lessons including the value of teamwork, the reward for hard work, the importance of discipline, the ability to set and reach for goals, along with a number of other benefits that they can carry with them into the world.  Why take that away from the kids who likely need it the most?

The Henrico County Public School System (and many others) are allowing kids the reward of graduating high school and sending them into the world with less than a 2.0 grade point average annually.

To do so without the benefits gained from extracurricular activities further devalues that education.

Football Editor Rod Johnson is now entering his tenth year with VirginiaPreps.com having first written for the site in 2003. To keep up with even more high school football news in Virginia, follow him on Twitter @vaprepsrod or find him on Facebook under "VirginiaPreps Rod Johnson".  He can also be contacted via e-mail at vaprepsrod@cox.net.


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