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Athletics are great, but academics come first

This weekend I was one of many teachers that ended their summers early to come to school and serve as a SAT proctor for students from Carroll County.

And, because of it being offered in August, many students from surrounding counties and beyond made the trip to "God's Country" to take the tests. I was impressed by the number of students who had taken time off late in their summers to spend four-plus hours cramping their brains in hopes to further their education in the institutions of their choice.

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My family growing up was solid in our support of each other's athletic events and spent many a night in the stands or sitting through the "rubber chicken" circuit to recognize each other's accomplishments. In my senior year, we sat at Martin's Westminster at an athletic banquet while a tornado touched down on Green Street.

But looking back, I would give almost anything to have had the opportunity to have my parents sitting in the audience when I received an academic achievement, National Honor Society induction or whatever.

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I remember attending an academic awards ceremony at my son's high school where members of the junior class were accepted into the National Honor Society and members of each class were awarded certificates based on their achievements from the prior academic year. There were many young men who had performed well and the auditorium was packed with family members who were there to recognize and support their achievements.

The same happens each year at our high school and every other one across the county where students are recognized for their strong academic performance.

What got to me that night though was some of the young men who didn't attend the ceremony despite their hard work and solid performance in the class room. I knew many of the names that were called in absentia and recognized some others from various sports teams at the school.

Don't get me wrong. I fully understand the complexities of a schedule filled with school, work, practices, games, family obligations and homework. I'm sure that each of these students and their families had valid reasons for not making it that night. But, knowing the few that I did made me wonder that if this were a sports recognition ceremony whether or not they would have been in attendance.

How often do we as a society, as a community, as parents, and as coaches place too much emphasis on the opportunities that can come through participation in collegiate sports while neglecting the comparatively overwhelming number of scholarships and successful career paths available to the student after college?

We're quick to encourage additional time at the free-throw line, at the track or in the gym, but how often do we push our kids to take the extra time and hit the library?

According to the NCAA, there are more than 8 million high school students competing in interscholastic athletics each year. Of those student-athletes a mere 480,000 or six-percent of those will be fortunate enough to make it to collegiate ranks. Before you can even begin to think about the possibility of a college scholarship for your child, they first have to rise to the level of an elite athlete that is able to compete at the collegiate level.

In the three major sports of men's and women's basketball and men's football, there are approximately 568,500 high school seniors competing for the 24,800 positions available to incoming freshmen on sports teams nationwide — an average of about 4 percent of them fortunate to make a college sports team.

Once you've crossed the first threshold, you then have to meet the minimal four academic requirements outlined by the NCAA to be eligible to apply for an athletic scholarship — you must be a graduate of high school, take a predetermined core course load (currently 14 required courses), carry a minimum grade-point average on your classes of 2.0 (C) and your combined SAT/GPA score must meet the grid requirements outlined by the NCAA.

The higher your GPA, the lower your SAT score can be. For example, a GPA of 3.0 only needs an SAT score of 620, while a 2.0 GPA requires a 1,010 to meet the minimum standards.

Yet as we head back to school this fall, you can rest assured that there will be many people focused on the athletic success of our county's athletes rather than on their academic success or the overall academic success of our students.

It's not our fault.

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The visions of mega million-dollar contracts, fast cars, big houses, and celebrity status make it easy for us to think our young superstar has what it takes.

As Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations once said, "Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family."

Shouldn't that be our main focus?

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