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Team Benched for Grades to Resume Play

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Richmond High School Oilers, who gained national attention last week when their coach banned them from basketball because of poor scholastic performance, will return to the court today.

In a Monday afternoon meeting, Coach Ken Carter, Principal Haidee Foust-Whitmore and Athletic Director Roy Rogers decided that the players--who were 13-0 this season--had improved their classroom performance enough to compete again.

“We made it. We will continue to monitor these young men biweekly now,” said Carter, who locked his players out of the gym last week after learning that 15 of them--including some starters on the varsity team--had been regularly tardy for classes, failed to turn in homework and earned below the 2.3 grade-point average he requires.

The 45 teenagers on the varsity, junior varsity and freshmen teams had been banished from basketball until their grades improved. On Monday, the school decided that eight days in study hall instead of team practice were enough.

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“I think we got the attention of the student athletes,” Carter said. “And they understand that they need to get serious about getting their education.”

The students arrived at the school gymnasium in this gritty Bay Area suburb Jan. 4 to find a padlock on the door and a sign telling them to report to the library. There they were greeted by tutors, teachers and counselors.

Since then, they have spent their practice time being tutored, and Carter has spent much of his free time giving interviews about his dramatic step of canceling two games, including the team’s first league game today against St. Elizabeth High School in Oakland.

That step became a bit less dramatic Monday when Carter reinstated today’s game. He would not comment on whether the lockout would be reimposed if the boys’ academic performance deteriorates.

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The players will continue to be tutored every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in revolving 90-minute sessions. The three teams share the gym; when one is practicing and using the gym, the other two will be in the library studying or being tutored, Carter said.

The players were back in the gym Monday afternoon, practicing for their big game today. “Right now we’re getting back to work,” said Chris Dixon, 17, a junior point guard on the varsity team. Carter’s lockout sent a message to all of Richmond High’s athletic teams and “gave us a chance to get back in the groove of school, in a way. It’s gonna help all of the programs, not just basketball.”

Added Lionel Arnold, 17, a junior guard on the varsity team: “The discipline level went up and the team stuck together. . . . The way I see it, it wasn’t punishment. It’s a team thing. He showed us, and it brought us together.”

Charles Ramsey, an attorney and school board member, said if the students’ grades improve enough to pass Carter’s strict standards, “they should be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities. Our goal is not to punish the children, it’s to make sure they put academics ahead of athletics.”

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But the rapid return to the court left parent Pam Walker Fletcher a little mystified Monday. Why did the coach wait until January to crack down on the players when even she knew that at least one was failing in November. And what next?

“They are going to play on probation,” said Walker Fletcher, whose son Christopher Gibson is a starting forward on the varsity team. “I guess it’s OK. I don’t know as of what point during the probation they’ll be evaluated to see if they can continue. I have no idea. I’ll be asking my son for sure.”


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