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Commentary : School Before Sports : That’s What Kids Should Be Learning

Baltimore Evening Sun

Where the corrective process needs to begin, this distorted belief that going to college becomes the inalienable right of every aspiring athlete, is in high school.

Or even before that, the elementary grades, which is where the ABCs are put in place.

Propositions 48 and 42, voted upon to strengthen the academic standards at the college and university level, wouldn’t even be required if high school sports were placed in their proper perspective. Either do acceptable work or be ineligible. Pure and simple.

Unfortunately, there’s a variance all over the country. Cities, towns and counties, be they in Maine, Maryland, Montana, or anywhere else you want to name, each have their own rules. Two jurisdictions can adjoin each other geographically and have different interpretations regarding scholarship.

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A 2.0 grade average in all subjects might be good enough to qualify in one area but, right next door, so to speak, the passing mark is 1.8. This makes for an ambiguity that is confusing and leads to even more problems later when it comes to clarification. It’s the high schools that need to tighten, not ease, restrictions.

That is the message that college presidents, athletic directors and coaches should be delivering to their counterparts in high schools all over America. If that could happen, then prospective candidates would be prepared when it came time to step forth and collect on their ability to run with a football or put a ball in a basket.

The rules shouldn’t be eased as an accommodation for the strong and the coordinated. Athletics are the incentive that keep numerous youngsters even vaguely interested in school and prompts them to show up every day, which is why some school systems insist, and rightly so, that if a kid isn’t in class, then he can’t suit up for the varsity that afternoon.

It has always been that way. So there is a high percentage of athletes, not necessarily students, who show up every day to endure history, math and science because it’s the price they must pay to play on high school teams.

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The National Collegiate Athletic Association, the governing body of collegiate sports, has endeavored to tighten the requirements for admission by athletic scholarship. Instead of being pounded with criticism, it should be applauded. The NCAA is closer to being right than wrong.

Every attempt should be made to make it equitable for all youngsters to go to college, the rich and the poor, if that’s their ambition. But the opportunity ought to be earned; it’s not a grant. John Thompson, the Georgetown basketball coach, took umbrage when the NCAA voted for tighter restrictions, which he interpreted as being racially motivated.

Certainly, Thompson and other coaches, such as Paul Evans at Pittsburgh, John Chaney at Temple, Bill Frieder at Michigan and Dale Brown at LSU, make it appear by the positions they have taken that they believe the action to be discriminatory against minorities. That’s their opinion, but just because they hold that opinion doesn’t mean it’s valid.

What the NCAA wants to do is upgrade the scholastic requirements for admission. Not every outstanding athlete belongs in college. Some don’t qualify. Black, white or polka-dot. Color and social standing shouldn’t have anything to do with it. Either get the classroom work done in high school or you don’t qualify for advancement to the next level of academia.

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Ever since the colleges started to reward scholarships for athletic ability, some of the most talented high school performers have not had the proper transcripts or the right courses to avail themselves of the opportunity that a college experience affords. It has always been that way. Why the change?

For black, white or polka-dot, the stipulation should be that an individual come home with a report card that’s respectable or else forego college later.

Most all of us have known multi-talented high school players who could have performed in any conference in the land. But they didn’t have the marks, so they became owners of their own businesses or joined the general work force, engaging in such diversified occupations as farming, auto repairing, picking grapes, carrying hod or writing sports.

A case in point is a high school kid of another era who loved being on the teams but was scholastically ineligible, at a time when a non-passing grade in two subjects meant you couldn’t even go out for a team. It happened to him twice, the result being he watched while others played.

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His desire at age 15, a mere child, was to run off and help win the war. But his mother insisted he would remain in high school and forced him to get a diploma. With sports as a “carrot,” it was a case of pulling up failing grades before he could even engage in a tryout with 200 or more other schoolmates.

It came about that he eventually saw the light, the value of education, the voice of wisdom, as imparted by his teachers, and the incorrigible eventually graduated--but a year later than his original class. Sports, good or bad, had been his main incentive for staying there.

A good thing, too, or else he wouldn’t have been in position to produce this column.


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