New Standards for Student Athletes

August 22, 1992

In Anne Arundel County, the school board has raised the minimum requirements for students participating in sports activities. Is that too much to ask of high school athletes? Is it unrealistic to expect them to pass their classes before they're allowed to play football or basketball?

The answer is no -- but school systems must show they understand that not everyone who fails does so because he or she is too lazy to do homework or show up for school.

Anne Arundel's new requirements reflect respect for a school's primary mission -- to educate -- while showing compassion for students who have legitimate reasons for not doing well. Students must maintain a 2.0 average, up from 1.6, and cannot fail a class. Those who receive an F in any course have 20 school days to bring up the grade. During that period, they cannot participate in practices, games or activities; if the grade comes up, they can play once more.

Coaches say if students cannot practice and try out, the 20 days could keep them out of the next sports season even if their grade improve. But how can failing students improve over 20 days if all their after-school time is spent on a playing field?

These new standards are firm, and they're fair. The only blatantly unfair thing about them is that they do not apply to other extracurricular activities, such as drama clubs and bands.

Unfortunately, tougher standards on athletic eligibility almost certainly will carry a price. Some students will quit school rather than make the extra effort.

Why we should take this risk? Why take away what for many teen-agers is the one thing they like about school? Isn't it better to keep them in school with failing grades and a basketball uniform than have them on the streets and in trouble?

These are valid points. But equally valid is this question: In the long run, don't we do students a disservice by letting them think that life revolves around sports? Too many young athletes, especially young men, waste time spinning pipe dreams about becoming professional sports superstars, realizing too late that for all but a tiny handful, the world is going to ask them to do more than dunk a basketball or bolt for the goal line.

Even those who have made it big have found the system did them wrong by caring more about their physical abilities than their intellect and emotions. Just look at Len Bias. Or Dexter Manley.

Finally, don't we do our society a disservice by letting student athletes take the low road, emerging from the education system without basic skills, without the ability to read, write and reason at the most fundamental levels?

If they know they have to, most students will try harder, especially if they are given assistance by concerned school officials when they run into trouble. But if they waste their potential, if they are allowed to get by for the sake of a football game, we will all end up paying the price.

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