The Howard County school system's much-heralded no-fail eligibility rule, which took effect starting with the winter sports season, has sidelined a significant percentage of would-be wrestlers, and several coaches are saying that the rule is too strict and should be re-evaluated.
At least 24 would-be wrestlers in the county are sitting out the season because of the new rule, which requires a minimum 2.0 GPA and no failing grades.
Many more wrestlers would have been ineligible under the old rule that allowed one failing grade, though coaches do not know exact numbers. The 10 high school wrestling programs, each of which has a varsity and a JV team, totals 272 student-athletes.
"I was completely in favor when the new rule first came out," Mount Hebron coach Jeff Quinn said. "Now, I'm not so sure. They went from too lenient to too strict."
Quinn, who has just 20 wrestlers in his entire varsity and JV program, lost seven athletes to the new rule and several more who would have been ineligible under the old rule that allowed one failing grade.
As of now, he is one of at least four coaches who will not be able to fill all 13 varsity weight classes, and more incomplete teams will occur as injuries take their toll. Numbers are down significantly at several schools.
These are the numbers of total participants on varsity and JV teams at each school: Atholton 22, Centennial 32, Glenelg 22, Hammond 37, Howard 19, Long Reach 28, Mount Hebron 20, Oakland Mills 32, River Hill 27, Wilde Lake 33.
Part of the drop in participants at some schools can be attributed to the redistricting resulting from the opening of two new schools, Long Reach and River Hill, but those openings had no effect on a school such as Wilde Lake, where enrollment has shot up to the largest in the county.
Wilde Lake, which had 45 in its program last season, is down to 33 after losing seven wrestlers to the new policy.
"I had no problem with the one failure," 26-year Wildecats coach Rich Jackson said. "We had four experienced junior varsity kids who didn't come back because of the new policy.
"Don't get me wrong -- we stress education first. But they are taking away the one thing that motivates them to stay in school. I hope they change it back after they re-evaluate it."
Quinn said that one student who would have been a top wrestler had he been eligible is now getting into fights frequently and is in danger of being expelled.
"Some kids go to school not primarily for education," Quinn said. "It seems this is cutting off a way of staying in school. Athletics is another aspect of education, and the board should do whatever it takes to hook people on school."
Quinn foresees a "dumbing down" of athletes' schedules because of the new rule.
"Coaches will set up their athletes' classes and dumb it down so they don't take anything they can fail," Quinn said.
Glenelg coach Matt Nagle, who lost only two wrestlers to the new rule, and said he expects to be able to fill all but one weight class, is also opposed to the new no-fail policy.
"You don't solve anything by negative reinforcement," Nagle said. "It doesn't make kids study harder, and it hasn't motivated kids who are ineligible. The reasons kids do poorly is lack of confidence or problems at home. By taking away sports, you're just killing them again."
Nagle cited himself as an example. He had a 2.1 grade-point average at Centennial, but because of wrestling, he gradually gained confidence in himself. He went on to the University of Maryland, where he wrestled for two more years and graduated with a 3.3 GPA and a degree in accounting.
"When I wrestled, I managed my time better, set priorities and maintained a focus. I think there needs to be a grade level for college, but not for high school. In high school, athletics should be a right. Idle hands are the devil's workshop."
Not every school was hit hard by the new rule, but participation is down countywide. Hammond won the county dual-meet and tournament championships last season and returns the county's dominant team this season, but total participants have dropped from 55 to 37.
Co-coach Bill Smith can't fully explain the drop.
"We lost two of last year's freshmen to Long Reach and two moved out of the county. But there was only one incoming freshman that I know we lost to the new rule. He was of junior-league caliber. But we would have lost more kids if I didn't work in the building."
Smith is one of only three varsity wrestling coaches who teaches at the same school. Most coaches are hired on an emergency basis because no other teacher within the school or within the school system wants the job.
Smith said that one wrestler had six A's and one E, but that he went to the teacher who had given the E and the teacher decided the grade had been miscalculated and gave the student a D.
Smith also said there may be some freshmen that he doesn't know about who are ineligible because of the new rule.
Oakland Mills lost four wrestlers to the new policy. The team's top performer, Chris Naylor, who has a 3.71 grade-point average, said: "It's hurt our team. Two of them were possible starters. It's pretty harsh. People on our team generally get better GPAs during the season because they manage their time better.
"People who flunk off the team now have nothing to work for the rest of the school year. This is the most ineligible kids I've seen in my four years here. We had 67 sign up, and 20 were ineligible."
Pub Date: 12/05/96