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A lot of kids probably hoped today would never arrive. But report card day is here.

It's bad enough worrying about what Mom and Dad will say and do when you take the report card home. But for a student/athlete, there's potential double trouble.

Those who don't bring home at least a 1.6 grade-point average will be placed on academic probation, meaning they can practice, but notparticipate, in the games.

For those student/athletes, it's not only disappointing mom and dad, but the team as well. Two annual county basketball playoff teams, Meade and Old Mill, are feeling that jolttoday.

The academic probation period ends Feb. 28. If, at the endof the 15-day probation, the student is meeting the academic standard, he can play on Friday, Feb. 28, and be eligible for the playoffs, which start the following week.

Not meeting the requirements makesstudents academically ineligible for all practices and games.

In basketball, where only five kids play at a time, it can be devastating to a team when the grades come out and they lose a key player.

That devastation has hit Meade, which could lose four key players, andOld Mill, which already has lost injured star guard Ravon Austin andcould lose standout back-courter Erik Sheppard to academic ineligibility.

Veteran Meade coach Butch Young said the high-scoring Somerville cousins, Robby and Butch, could be among the four players he loses today.

"It's very frustrating, and I believe it's the first time it has happened to us on the varsity since I've been here," said Young, the only boys hoop coach the 15-year-old school has had.

"We may not have enough to field a team," said Young, half-joking as he braced himself for a visit to front-running Annapolis (13-1) tonight.

"The information I got today indicates we may be losing four players . . . four big people."

Annapolis, the team Meade (10-5), Old Mill (11-4) and everyone else is chasing in Class 4A Region IV, is notlosing anyone to academic problems.

More will be known today on the loss of key players, but Severna Park (11-4) and Broadneck (9-6) appear to be without academic problems -- although the Bruins lost starting guard Maurice Washington to an automobile accident a couple weeks ago.

Washington's return is uncertain.

To get a 1.6, students can fail one course, but fail two and you are gone. Then again, a student could get three C's and three D's -- not fail any course -- and still be declared ineligible at 1.5.

"There are some kids who can't do any better than that," Young said.

"No failures and a 1.5 is the best they can do, and in a lot of cases playing sports really helps those kinds of kids."

Then there's the student/athlete who isnot a 4.0 kind of kid, but can meet the requirements if he works at it. That's Erik Sheppard of Old Mill.

"Erik is a good kid, but youcan't survive on goodness, you've got to work," said Erik's mother, Toni Sheppard, who despite what has happened to her son is a steadfast supporter of the 2.0 GPA for student/athletes.

"He is one of those kids who has to work at it. You have to have your priorities in order. Sometimes it takes the shock of something like this to wake themup."

Erik agrees, but says he "feels bad about" letting the team down and is greatly disappointed about not getting to play against Severna Park tonight.

"I was looking forward to that game, but now I've got to work hard and get it together so I can play again," he said.

His departure comes at a time when Old Mill was playing its best basketball of the season. A week ago today, the Patriots won at Broadneck, 57-53, then blasted Meade, 78-61, on Tuesday.

After an overtime loss to South River a couple weeks ago, the Pats lost leading scorer Austin to a knee injury. Austin's recovery is on schedule and Coach Paul Bunting is looking forward to getting him back in two weeksor less.

Of course, the Old Mill coach wasn't counting on losing Sheppard.

"But the team will go on. They're well-coached," Sheppard's mother said.

"And with the good support system Erik has at school and at home, he will get it straightened out."

Erik's is the kind of story repeated throughout the school year, at all schools and in all sports -- the case of a kid coming to realize that life is nota free ride and that you have to work for things.

Most county teachers and coaches want to help the kids; very few turn their backs and could care less. But the kids have to learn to do their share, and the parental support has to be there.

"We try to keep tabs on our players, but there is only so much you can do," said Bunting. "Erik had a few absences he should not have had, and had he dressed all the time for phys-ed, he should have gotten an A and would have a 1.6 GPA."

No question Erik is an outstanding athlete. He was an All-County football player, and is one of the top guards in the county. An A in phys-ed would be no surprise; the C he got was.

As his mother said, it's a matter of having your priorities in order.

"When I wentto school, you had to get good grades or you didn't play. You can't pacify kids, because when they get out in the work world, they won't be pacified. You've got to work to keep your job, to get promoted."

Toni Sheppard is typical of a lot of parents who care, and who willbe facing this same kind of disappointment today. Most already know the score, since they have been monitoring their children all along.

Still, it doesn't seem to hit until your child brings that report card home, slumps down in the chair and says, "Well, I can't play tonight."

You can only hope that, as Toni Sheppard said, "they realize it's time to wake up."

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