Problem with academic performance goes beyond GPA

Published 9:01 am Friday, January 9, 2009

The issue about raising the minimum GPA for student athletes at Franklin High School has become a heated issue with several opinions being expressed, both positive and negative. I have held back on this issue, but as someone who deals directly with high school sports, I feel it’s time I weighed in.

Over the last few days, I have asked people for their opinion on the topic. I will admit that when I heard the minimum GPA for participation was 1.25, I was surprised about how low that is. That is just above a “D” average. I was also surprised that the Virginia High School League does not have a standard for the state.

After hearing the differing opinions on the topic, I can see both sides, but I am still in favor of raising the standard, although not all at one time.

Those who were in favor of keeping the GPA at 1.25 noted that athletics keeps kids off the streets and that holding them out of sports for grades would put them back on the streets and probably out of school altogether. One person noted that the football players at Franklin in particular are learning other things besides X’s and O’s. Head coach Darren Parker commands discipline and stresses teamwork and achieving goals, skills that teens will use later in life. This isn’t always the case in sports, but with the right coach, I believe this can be true.

Those in favor of raising the minimum GPA noted that students are in school to learn, and setting the bar so low encourages them to do the bare minimum to get by. I have read some of the comments by readers who said that local student athletes (and parents) are fooling themselves if they think they are going to play sports professionally, and that they need education to fall back on.

As someone who played high school sports, and has also worked for a public school system, I have learned a few things that I truly believe:

Referring to grades, a high school coach once told me and my teammates that playing high school sports is a privilege, not a right. With the advent of riches and notoriety beyond belief in professional sports, that theory has somewhat gone by the wayside.

If you set the bar low, that is exactly where student achievement will end up. If you set the bar high, and challenge students, they will achieve more than you expect.

 I personally applaud the school board for attempting to raise the bar academically at Franklin High School by examining the athletic program. However, a recent guest column by Howie Soucek was spot on — the problem with academic performance is not just a “sports” problem. It is systemwide.

With that said, raising the expectations for the importance of education in the entire city is a must.

As for athletes, it would be pretty shocking to have a rule change from a 1.25 GPA to a 2.00 GPA in a short period of time. How about raising the expectations by phasing in a GPA increase over time? Let the athletes, parents and coaches prepare for an increase by raising the GPA to 1.50 for two years, 1.75 for the next two years, and finally ramping up to 2.00. To me, this would encourage student athletes to work harder on the books, and ensure success at the same time rather than discourage students from participating at all.

And, to make it fair, include this scale for students involved in all extracurricular activities, not just sports.

 Now for something absurd. According to a report in The Smithfield Times, the Isle of Wight School Board has told Windsor High School that it must return to wearing blue-and-gold athletic uniforms as its traditional school colors, and the school must replace all of its current black-and-blue uniforms by September of 2011. Apparently a group of alumni came to the board and complained about the black-and-blue uniforms not adhering to the school tradition. The report also said that the Windsor Booster Club estimated that it would cost at least $100,000 to replace uniforms.

Is this the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard?

Never mind that four schools in the Tri-Rivers District will wear blue and gold and Northampton High School, a regular opponent of Windsor, also wears blue and gold. Never mind that the black-and-blue uniforms look good and are very distinguishable. Never mind that with the state budget a disaster that school districts will have less money to serve students.

One hundred thousand dollars. That’s a LOT of bake sales.

 After just four games, the Franklin High School boys’ basketball team looks formidable. The Broncos, who got a late start because of the football team’s state championship run, played well in a 73-46 win over Appomattox Regional Governor’s School on Tuesday night. Franklin really ramped up the offensive speed in the second and third quarter.

“We’ve really been looking to push the ball. This is only our fourth game, and we haven’t had the opportunity or the practices,” said Franklin head coach Danny Dillon after Tuesday night’s game. “But now they are starting to understand.”

We will see how good the Broncos are tonight. Franklin will have a challenge at home against Surry County. The Cougars are undefeated and ranked number one in the state by several publications.