New rules on athletes may diminish the future of high school sports

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Student-athletes used to be special, but it seems trendy these days to strip them of their prestige and position in the high school experience.

Do you get the feeling that people at the higher levels are taking the fun out of being a high school athlete and turning what should be a memorable experience into a stressful situation?

Not only have grade-point average requirements in Anne Arundel County been lifted, but students have been told they can't fail a grade even if they dare to tackle an advanced-placement course.

Throw in 75 hours of community service and mandatory passing grades in algebra and geometry in order to earn a high school diploma, compliments of the state school board and, effective the fall of 1993, the kids might not have time to play.

Sweeping personnel changes in higher education have resulted in sweeping changes in high school graduation requirements. It's my opinion that the student-athletes have become the target in these changes, and that's too bad.

Could the changes ultimately lead to a lower participation rate in athletics?

As frightening as it seems to those of us who appreciate the positive values of athletics, could the underlying motive of those in the ivory towers be to de-emphasize high school sports and physical education to save money?

Consider that on Aug. 5 the Board of Education with four new team members voted in a 2.0 grade-point average with no failing grades requirement for student-athletes only by a 6-1 margin with one abstention.

Adding insult to injury, the new ground rules were orchestrated in a rather devious way by the board's self-proclaimed "communications expert," Tom Twombly.

Twombly is on record as saying that "the parents are all too often left out when it comes to making major policy and we need to be in touch with them and get them involved."

It's interesting that the same man engineered the vote on the new 2.0 GPA at the board meeting free of any public or parental input.

Like a lobbyist during the legislative session, Twombly rounded up the necessary support to pass the new requirement despite the fact it was on the board agenda for "discussion only."

Twombly corralled the four new board members -- Sanford Witcher, Joseph Foster, Michael convinced them to vote for the measure.

It was a measure he had proposed back in the spring of 1991. At that time, Twombly suggested raising the GPA on a yearly tier. His idea to go from a 1.6 to a 1.7, 1.8, 1.9 and a 2.0 within four years was a good one.

There was no mention of failing grades by Twombly who since then has gotten caught up with being in the spotlight as the board member who speaks candidly to the media -- an unprecedented tactic.

Somewhere along the way, Twombly started confusing college sports with prep sports and came to believe that it's the job of the high school coaches to turn out NCAA Division I athletes.

It's not their job at all, and if it was their job, most of them would be out of work not because of the students' grades, but because, truth be known, this county has few kids physically capable of playing Division I football, basketball and so on.

Under the new rule that becomes effective in January 1993, one failing grade or a GPA below 2.0 puts the athlete on the sidelines. A 20-day probation period follows.

If after the probation (during which time the athlete can not practice or play games with the team) is up, the athlete still doesn't meet the requirements, he is banned from playing.

Current policy is a 1.6 GPA with no more than one failing grade, but at least it applies to everyone in extracurricular activities and not just athletes.

It's the board's contention, for instance, that student government members should be exempt because they represent the entire student body. It truly shows just how out of touch educators and board members are.

Since when doesn't a school team represent the entire student body? Is school spirit created by an athletic team or the student government?

Are we saying you can have an SGA full of flunkies represent the student body, but all the athletes had better pass?

When are our educators and the big wheels who make the big decisions going to realize and accept the fact that athletic teams are an integral part of education?

Kids learn more about life and people on the athletic field and being part of a team than they could ever in any classroom or from any textbook. Coaches are educators with value, but unfortunately the administrative types don't want to accept that.

School Superintendent C. Berry Carter II opposed passing the new regulations without public response. Carter expressed concern that such a stiff policy could result in kids dropping out of school because many stay in so they can play high school sports.

If athletics keep some kids in school, isn't that a positive result and something that our board members should look into before hastily passing such a stiff policy?

I think most parents and students would support the 2.0 but not the no failing grades half of the rule.

Grade requirements do encourage students to do better to be eligible to play, but to say you can't fail, let's say trig or calculus (if a student-athlete dares to take it under the new policy) is unrealistic. The best hitters in major league baseball fail seven times out of 10.

It's human nature to be good in some things and not so good in others. We can't justifiably tell kids they can't ever fail something because we all fail from time to time.

Life is bouncing back from adversity. If we want to challenge student-athletes, we shouldn't hold a no failing grades policy over their heads or we will end up with a bunch of deadheads. They won't want to be challenged for fear they may not be playing Friday night.

There is a great deal of debate in the education community about whether the questions on SATs are fair to blacks and other minorities. Critics say the tests are culturally biased toward whites and do little to measure the ability to succeed in college. In the end, they say, all you've done is barred some black and other minority students from attending college.

The new county policy appears to follow that same track. If the no-fail rule sticks, all you've accomplished is depriving some kids of a very important part of the high school experience -- playing on a team.

Some of you may be saying that I'm overreacting, but I don't think so. Think about the kid from a single-parent family whose only ticket to a college education may be the ability to put the ball through the cylinder or score from 80 yards out.

He may not have the money for college, but his athletic ability might earn him a scholarship. He works hard to meet the academic requirements, is a good kid but comes up short because he failed one course.

He can't play. His dream is over. Trying hard is not enough. Should we be concerned about such a kid?

You are damned right we should be.

The bottom line in all of this is compassion and understanding for today's kids. No generation has ever been faced with more pressures -- AIDS, drugs and alcohol -- than this generation.

Athletics can be an outlet and an escape from those pressures. Surely our kids don't need additional pressures to take the fun out of their lives, and high school sports can make life fun and fulfilling.

Let's start making our athletes feel good about themselves again and not like criminals or outcasts.

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