Sports talk: GPA rule debated 2.0 standard backfires, some say

February 21, 1993|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Staff Writer

Seventeen-year-old Troy Dennis spent the past three years playing football and basketball for Southern High School.

Troy expected this year would be no different. Even when he ran afoul of the school system's 2.0 minimum GPA requirement, he figured hard work and better study habits would keep him on the team.

He was wrong. After making it through the football season, Troy never even made the cut in basketball.

His coach says he was concerned Troy couldn't handle both athletics and his studies. Troy and his father believe that the teen-ager fell victim to an unforeseen effect of raising the minimum GPA requirement: that the coach didn't want to take a chance and put someone on the team who might not have made it through the season.

"Everybody on the team keeps asking me when I'm coming back," said Troy, with the basketball season -- and his chance to continue as a two-sport athlete -- almost over.

"I have a 10th-grade education," said Troy's father, Lonnie Dennis. "I know how important education is. I've always told Troy school comes first. But I think he should have been able to play. Troy was trying to do his best."

But Southern coach Tom Albright said he had Troy's best interests at heart. "I was concerned that if [Troy] took 30 hours a week practicing and playing, there was no way he would be able to bring up his grades," he said.

When county school officials decided last year to raise the academic requirements for students participating in sports and other extracurricular activities, the intent was to ensure that students put their studies first.

But Troy and others like him represent an unforeseen side effect of the decision: If some student-athletes aren't going to make the cut because coaches fear that they later might be declared academically ineligible, then where's the incentive to try and improve on their studies -- perhaps even to stay in school?

"I have one fault with the 2.0 that keeps raising its ugly head," says Severna Park High School athletic director and football coach Andy Borland. "This is supposed to be keeping athletes in school. I'm not sure we're doing that. Sometimes athletics is the only attraction for staying in school. What happens when you take that attraction away?"

Jackie Neil, a counselor at Severna Park and a former girls lacrosse and field hockey coach, plays down those concerns. She believes that students will benefit from the new GPA requirement.

"There are positive things to be gained out of the higher standard, that more programs will be developed to help all students, not just those in athletics," Ms. Neil said. "I don't think kids will be dropping out. Yes, there will be a period of adjustment. But I think we're going to work through the kinks and move on."

School board member Thomas J. Twombly, a proponent of the GPA increase, said it was still too early to determine its effectiveness. But he believes that students have to get used to raising their standards.

"I'm not surprised the numbers [of students declared ineligible] are up there," he said. "I think it will be interesting to see what the numbers are like next year. Our primary responsibility is education, first and foremost. I sometimes wonder if we have the kids' best interest at heart."

The merit -- as well as the fairness -- of raising the minimum GPA from 1.6 to 2.0 has been debated ever since the Board of Education approved the increase last year, effective fall 1992. Parents, students and coaches complained that the decision was made hastily and without public input.

Black parents complained that a disproportionate number of black students would be prevented from participating in extracurricular activities. Nearly half of the system's black students, or 45 percent, have been declared ineligible to participate in extracurricular activities, compared with 27 percent white students (see accompanying chart).

Coaches at several county high schools said few of their team members were actually placed on probation last semester.

Many students, including some who had played on teams in previous years, didn't bother to try out for sports once the GPA was raised, coaches said.

Annapolis High School basketball coach John Brady said only one student on probation came out for the team, and he made it.

The lowest GPA among his players is 2.2.

"Most kids become ineligible out-of-season, not in-season," Mr. Brady said. "That's when the real problems start. Most who come in ineligible become eligible because we monitor them."

Arundel High School athletic director Bernie Walter said very few students with less than a 2.0 tried out for any team sport.

"A lot of kids just didn't do it," he said. "Some didn't or couldn't bring up their grades, so they didn't even bother to try out."

INELIGIBLE FOR ACTIVITIES

Number of students who have been declared ineligible for participation in extracurricular activities, as of marking period ending Feb. 12:

SG Group .. ... ... ... ... ... Total .. .. .. Ineligible .. . Percent

TOTAL STUDENTS

Grade 9

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