Athletes need grades to play, but is the bar set too low?

Student athletes make time to balance school and sports.

Student athletes make time to balance school and sports.

Sports are a part of many people’s lives in some way. There’s the soccer mom who drives her kids to practice and games and that dad in the stands who cheers for his kids even if they don’t make the game-winning catch or the game-saving tackle. Then, of course, there are the fans who sit on the couch on weekends and watch while the college and professional players try to become household names.

But in high school and college, student-athletes must meet certain requirements in order to actually participate in sports. Those rules are first set by the people in charge of everything – the OHSAA for any Ohio high school sport and the NCAA for any college sport.

Despite what many believe, the OHSAA does not set a minimum grade-point average for athletic participation in high school. The basic OHSAA requirement is only that a student has earned a minimum of 5 credits that count toward graduation during the preceding grading period. Theoretically, that means a student who has seven classes can flunk two and earn Ds in the other five and still be eligible to play.

Individual school districts, however, can add whatever additional requirements they choose for academic eligibility of student-athletes. At Fairmont, the main additional requirements are that a student:

  • Cannot have failed more than one subject in the preceding grading period; and
  • Must achieve a 1.50 GPA (on a 4.0 scale) in the preceding grading period.

Several other Miami Valley districts also require the 1.50 GPA in high school; among those are Lebanon, Miamisburg and Beavercreek. However, even more districts appear to have set the bar a bit higher, establishing a 2.0 GPA minimum. Those schools involved include Centerville, Dunbar, Greenville, Franklin, Alter, Fairborn and Vandalia-Butler.

Some feel that Fairmont’s GPA, which falls between a D and a C, is too low for students. “In my mind, I would like to change the GPA scale and raise it higher, from 1.5 to maybe about a 2.0. If the scale is that low, 1.5, then that means that the students will only do the minimum amount of work because the minimum amount of work would be 1.5,” said Fairmont Athletic Director Chris Weaver.

On the other hand, some students think the current GPA requirement is appropriate. “I feel that the GPA is just right,” said senior Brian Blake, who bowled during his freshman and sophomore year. “The GPA isn’t too hard to get, so it gives those who can’t play on the select teams in the city a chance to still play the sport that they love.” Blake added, however, that he thinks the lower requirement should mean that more students play sports at Fairmont.

Blake said he never really had a hard time keeping up with his homework as a student-athlete. “When I would come home from a match, I would eat, do my homework, and then go to bed,” he said. “Sure, there were some nights that homework ran a little bit longer then anticipated, but that was one of the things that you had to deal with during your sport season. I mean it isn’t like Fairmont made you pick a sport to do; you voluntarily signed up to it, and if you have homework on the same night of a game, you just do it when you get home.”

The hard part comes when a student is only a few points off the 1.5 GPA, something like a 1.4 or a 1.3.  Weaver said he compares that situation to getting pulled over for speeding in a car.

“If a cop pulls you over going 66 in a 65 zone, he can’t give you a break just because you went one mile per hour over,” said Weaver. “And I have dealt with students who are off by one or two points, but I can’t make exceptions. If I did, then I can’t just say no to a person who is three or four points off, and so on and so on.”

When a sports season rolls around, the Athletic Department pulls up the athletes’ grades. If they are eligible, then they can play, and if they aren’t, they don’t play.

“When kids are down in the Athletic Office and they have found out that they can’t play, they try to whine their way to play,” said Jonnie Shoemacher, Athletic Department secretary.

“I always tell kids that Jonnie Shoemacher didn’t miss turning in an assignment, Jonnie Shoemacher didn’t get a 59 percent on a test, and Jonnie Shoemacher isn’t at home for you to make sure that you do your work,” she said with a chuckle.

Sometimes teachers feel the heat for their students’ academic ineligibility. “I have had parents in the past complain about their athlete not being able to participate in sports because of grades,” said Bill Buirley, a math teacher and volleyball coach. “But in the long run, the onus is on the student themselves, which most parents don’t have a choice but to understand.”

Upset parents also sometimes come to the Athletic Office. “All we can tell parents is that if they have a problem with their child’s grades, then they have to schedule a conference with that teacher and discuss it then, not with us. We can’t change their grades,” said Shoemacher.

Rick Kappel, an East Unit science teacher and former track and field coach, said he thinks Fairmont’s eligibility requirements are reasonable.

“I think our GPA requirements are a positive force for keeping students on top of their grades. I don’t think they are too stringent; I think they are just right,” Kappel said. “And I applaud of effort of academic probation to keep at-risk students on top of their grades. Making them get all their grades every Friday helps keep them organized and aware.”

Head Football Coach Andy Aracri also feels that Fairmont’s requirements are appropriate. “The GPA requirements we have are great. Grades are the most important thing for our student-athletes. They need to be great students first and then great athletes,” said Aracri. “Grades are the first things college coaches ask about and look at when they come here to recruit one of our athletes.”

Weaver agrees that grades must come first. “I tell students to strive their best every day in school because of this statistic: 96 percent of athletes in high school across the entire country will not go onto play sports in college,” said Weaver.

“Academics are more important to a student in high school,” said Weaver. “That is why we call our athletes ‘student-athletes,’ because academics come before sports.”