School athletes practice new drill -- study hall Teams required to meet for homework sessions

September 16, 1998|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

School's out at South Carroll High. The halls are empty. The athletic teams are on the practice fields -- with one exception. The members of the girls' varsity soccer team sit quietly in a classroom.

Their coach, Jim Horn, is an easygoing and popular social studies teacher at the school, but he's unyielding on one matter when it comes to the young athletes on his team. Before hitting the practice fields, they've got to hit the books.

Horn started his mandatory half-hour study hall for players last year. It's an unusual step to take, but the idea appears to be gaining in popularity across the region.

"This fall, I've found more and more principals in Baltimore County outlining this as one of the expectations of new coaches," said Ron Belinko, coordinator of athletics for Baltimore County schools.

Athletic directors say the mandatory study hall before practice creates a valuable window of uninterrupted time for busy students to get a jump on their homework.

"The youngsters are fresh, they can go down to study hall, practice, go home, have some down time to eat, rest or finish up their assignments," Belinko said. "It's really wise time management for student athletes."

The routine has paid off for Horn's soccer players.

The team earned a grade point average of 3.76 during last year's season, and 3.48 for the school year. Team members were recognized for their academic achievement by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. All 19 team members made the honor roll, and 11 had averages of 4.0.

On the sports front, the team didn't win any soccer championships, but its record was respectable -- seven wins, five losses and three ties.

"What I care about is that they get the message that academics has to be first," Horn said.

At South Carroll High, the members of the girls' varsity soccer team know the drill. Every day after school they report to Horn's classroom to start their homework before heading to the locker room.

"It helps us keep our work straight and gets our grades up," said goalie Amanda Hughes, 16, who used a recent study hall to catch up on "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" for her English class.

"At first nobody really wanted to do it. Who wants to stay after school and do homework?" said Hughes. "But later in the year it pays off grade-wise."

Junior Kim Bowers said the soccer team study hall was a big factor in raising her grade point average from 2.0 to 3.0 over the past year.

Bowers found it was helpful to have older team members help her with difficult subjects.

"It's like we're tutors for each other," said Bowers. "They all help me, because they know I need to get my grades up."

Minimum grade requirement

To be eligible to participate on athletic teams in Carroll County schools, students must maintain a D average, or 1.0 grade point average, or better and cannot receive any failing grades.

But Horn expects his team to go beyond the minimum.

"I felt this was one more way to let kids know what's important," said Horn. "Winning championships looks good on paper and gives you a nice memory, but if you excel academically it's going to get you places.

"In 13 years of coaching, I've had maybe three or four kids get full [soccer] sports scholarships," he said. "For the majority of kids who go to college on any kind of scholarship, it's going to be an academic scholarship."

According to athletic directors at area high schools, a mandatory study hall strengthens the commitment and discipline required from young athletes who participate on interscholastic teams.

"I would encourage every coach to have a study hall," said Don Disney, coordinator of athletics for Howard County schools. "I think what it really does is show that the coaches are concerned and the priorities are right."

Ned Sparks, executive director of Maryland Secondary Schools Athletic Association, said a required study hall helps to send the right message about the purpose of high school sports, which is sometimes forgotten in the heat of competition.

"It's not who can kick the ball farthest or who scores the most," Sparks said. "The thing you want to get across is anything worth having is worth putting extra effort into."

Athletic directors at area school systems point to studies showing that students who participate in athletic teams and other extracurricular activities have an academic edge over those who don't -- even without study halls.

"They become more organized," Disney said. "When you don't have practice at 2 p.m. and go home, you don't study."

He noted an analysis showing that the mean grade point average of all students participating in Howard County sports teams in the 1996-1997 school year was 3.25. The top overall average -- 3.48 -- belonged to the girls' cross-country teams and the football teams ranked lowest, with a 2.71 overall average.

"All the girls' sports teams outdid the boys'," Disney said.

'Pretty serious students'

At South Carroll High, the girls' soccer team has acquired a reputation as a brainy bunch of athletes.

"I'm fortunate to have some pretty serious students," Horn said.

Even so, he takes every opportunity to stress academics. Horn ends each practice with this reminder: "Make sure you do your homework, ladies."

Pub Date: 9/16/98

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