Teams enforce athlete GPA policy
February 3, 2016
The thrill of representing the high school on a sports team and wearing the iconic blue or white jersey is, as varsity football coach and health and fitness teacher Keith Thomas put it, “a privilege, not a right.” With this privilege comes a certain responsibility to maintain academic standards in outside of athletics, standards that are defined by the eligibility rules of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association.
However, coaches, athletes, and members of the athletic department at the high school all agreed that this rule sets the bar low in terms of students’ grade requirements. As a result, some teams at the high school have enforced tougher standards in an effort to maintain the “student” in “student-athlete.”
According to Athletic Director Pete Rittenburg, the official policy of the high school, consistent with that of the MIAA, is that a student must be enrolled in, and passing, at least four classes to remain eligible. There is no GPA component to the rule. Thomas said that this policy could be more severe.
“I don’t think that the rule’s harsh at all,” Thomas said. “I really think there should be a certain GPA included with it. Playing sports is not a right, it’s a privilege.”
However, Rittenburg said that while an athlete could technically be eligible with a D- in every class based on the MIAA policy, administrators, coaches and teachers will work towards a contract to get them to improve. The MIAA policy states that an athlete must be enrolled in and passing at least four classes. So, the high school and its coaches would rarely accept such grades without working to actively support them.
“If you’re taking, six courses technically you could be failing two and passing four with all D-minuses and still be eligible,” Rittenburg said. “However, if we ever see a report card like that, that’s a conversation to have with coaches, deans, counselors, and try and leverage some sort of a contract. That’s really not what we’d want to see from a student athlete, even if they’re eligible.”
Rittenburg said that while everyone must follow the minimum, they are free to toughen their individual rules on a case-by-case basis that works for the team and its players.
Junior Cameron Greve, a member of the football team, said that football has its own requirements. According to Greve, having any grade below a C- can result in a player being benched. Greve, who also participated on the crew team in years prior, said that both sports had identical policies.
“You do get benched and until you get your grade back up you cannot participate in practice and games,” Greve said.
Senior Max Bochman, a captain of the football team, and Greve both agreed that the rule put in place by the football team is fair.
“As an athlete you’re representing the school, so it makes sense to be held accountable for schoolwork,” Bochman said. “What usually happens is as it gets closer to the end of a quarter, people who are on the edge of failing start getting more pressure from their teachers and our coaches. Some teachers give students a chance to get back into good academic standing so that they can continue to play, but if a kid doesn’t meet the academic standards then they can’t play.”
Junior Jake Sternlicht said that the tennis team also has its own grading policy, which says that if a player has a single D on their report card they are not allowed to play. Junior Natasha Rinnig, who plays volleyball, said that while the team does not have an official requirement on grades, the coach encourages players to do their best in school. This can include missing practice time if an assignment needs to be completed or work made up.
“You can’t be less restrictive, but you may be more restrictive,” Rittenburg said. “Departmentally, our baseline is just the MIAA standard. Beyond that, I would say, yes, case-by-case, you’re looking at situations and leveraging athletics for academics.”
While the MIAA rule and those of individual coaches are in place, they serve a small minority of student athletes falling behind. Rittenberg said that across the student athlete population, the vast majority are very strong students and had great academic standings. According to Rittenberg, while the MIAA’s rule could be harsher, it would not make much of a difference based on the case-by-case way the high school handles problems when they do arise. He stressed inter-departmental communication as the heart of this process.
“We encourage our coaches to look beyond X’s and O’s and try to find what’s going in other aspects, including academics, in student athlete’s lives,” Rittenburg said. “Like we say, student athletes; one of those words come first, so we do want to make sure that our athletes are doing as well as they can in the classroom, and I think any coach would be motivated by the fact that there is an eligibility standard. So to have a kid miss either practice time or even contest time because they have to make up schoolwork if they’re falling behind in school, I think any coach would go along with that because you have to succeed in the classroom to stay eligible as an athlete.”
Thomas also emphasized the importance of coaches being in constant knowledge of the academic performance of players. While Thomas said the main check he does of all players usually comes just at IPR’s, he constantly speaks with other teachers to monitor their grades.
“The good thing about me coaching and teaching here at the high school is that I’m always available,” Thomas said. “All of the teachers know me, so when anything happens in the classroom, I’m the first one to find out or they’re emailing me about a problem or someone missing homework, so I’m pretty well on top off just about most things that happen.”
Greve said that having coaches check on grades is beneficial to players in terms of staying on top of them.
“I think that a check should be every other week,” Greve said. “I think that they should have a soft but firm grip on their players’ grades.”
Bochman, echoing Rittenberg’s sentiment that the high school’s athletes are highly committed to academics, said that during the season, maintaining grades has not been a problem for him because of the structure football offers.
“I haven’t ever really had a hard time maintaining grades during the season,” Bochman said. “Obviously during a season you get extremely busy so on school nights it’s basically get home, eat, do homework, and go to sleep. But I think that strict schedule actually helps stay focused on what I need to do. I wouldn’t say there is a fear of not playing. I’ve always valued education so I don’t really need any exterior motivation for that.”