State raises academic requirements for athletes|[7/15/05]

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 15, 2005

A new statewide rule requiring coaches and teachers to carefully monitor student athletes’ grades will have a limited effect here initially, but that will change in years to come.

The Mississippi High School Activities Association approved a grade standard July 1 that increases required course averages from 70 percent to 75 percent for junior high and high school athletes. Those who don’t make the extra five points won’t be allowed to participate in any sport until they do.

The standard, however, is being phased in. Initially, junior high athletes will be required to hit the “C-mark” in the four basic classes that meet five times a week and must pass these courses the year before they intend to participate .

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Junior high school students participating in high school sports must have a 75 average in three of their four basic courses, which include math, science, English and social studies.

In high schools, only freshmen will have to hit the grade marks this year, and keep hitting them as they advance.

The standard says high school athletes must complete five credits per year with a minimum 75 average overall. Incoming freshmen must complete six credits one of those years.

Any student who does not have the grades for eligibility at the beginning of the school year can become qualified in the second semester and students can regain their eligibility only once.

Lum Wright, athletic director for Vicksburg Warren schools, expressed mixed feelings. He said while the percentage requirement has not been raised in recent years, the number of course requirements has increased. For the 2008-2009 school year, the Department of Education will increase the number of total course units required for graduation from 20 to 24.

“If the state’s going to raise academic levels, it has to add more courses,” Wright said.

Wright said athletic directors and principals met with Ennis Proctor, executive director of the MHSAA, and other association representatives to discuss the change.

Wright said the committee came to a compromise so coaches would still have control of their teams’ policies and the schools could enforce the increased academic standards.

Wright also said the new standards came from a belief that coaches are ignoring academic trouble to keep talented players on their teams, but are leaving athletes in a bad situation when they are not qualified to graduate.

“People think coaches use kids and then just let them go,” Wright said. “I don’t see us throwing them away.”

Pam Wilbanks, Warren Central Junior High principal, said the change is positive and will let students know how important academics are.

“I believe that parents, coaches, teachers and students will be more aware of grades,” Wilbanks said.

Toriano Wells, Vicksburg High School’s ninth-grade football coach, said he is prepared for the change. He said he and his staff started working with students to improve their grades before the MHSAA enacted the new rule.

“We as coaches have to make sure we stay on top of what the kids are doing,” Wells said.

He said the football staff sends weekly progress reports to the players’ teachers to fill out so the coaches can keep track of grades.

“We started that last year before the changes went into effect and it has been good,” Wells said. “This way, the kids can know that we know what’s going on in the classroom.”

Vicksburg High also offers tutoring sessions and study halls for athletes during the off season.

Vic Tyrone, a junior fullback for Warren Central High School, said he doesn’t think the higher standards will pose a problem for the team because high school student athletes are required to go to class every day.

“A lot is required of athletes,” said Robert Morgan, WC’s assistant football coach and former head coach. “It’s something you choose to do, and you have to play by the rules.”

Donny Fuller, the varsity girls basketball coach for Warren Central, said he constantly checks his players’ grades and imposes extra “exercise” when poor reports are received.

“I have a simple rule for my players – they run for Ds and Fs and they don’t stop running until they bring a note that said they have brought up their grades,” Fuller said.