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Is lowering student-athletes' GPA requirements the right answer?

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Photo by Daniel Kucin. Washington Redskins defensive lineman Stephen Bowen says balancing school and sports "isn't that hard" if students apply themselves.

Photo by Daniel Kucin. Washington Redskins defensive lineman Stephen Bowen says balancing school and sports "isn't that hard" if students apply themselves.

Published on: Wednesday, November 07, 2012

By Daniel Kucin

Every student-athlete knows the feeling when they have hit a wall with their academics.

Sometimes it’s hard to handle what some would consider having a full-time job and trying to make a balancing act between school and work. You have to put the same amount of hard work and dedication into both fields, but it is very difficult for some athletes who lack a very important trait in multitasking.

When talking to Washington Redskins defensive lineman Stephen Bowen at a recent Prince George’s County charity event about being successful as a student-athlete, he said, “It really isn’t that hard when you apply yourself. You need to set time away to do your work. School isn’t that hard at all.... If you apply yourself and start at an early age, it becomes easier when you get older.”

So what’s the answer?

Last year, the Prince George’s Board of Education dropped the “No E” clause, which had some skeptics and coaches at ease rather than at arms.

Prior to Oct. 11, 2011, every student-athlete had to maintain a 2.0 grade point average to perform in any sports extracurricular activity. However, even if an athlete met the GPA requirement, he or she could still have been disqualified from scholastic athletics if the student received a single failing grade on a report card. Just one “E” could cost that student his or her opportunity to play sports until the next grading cycle.

The “No E” rule had a stint of four years in Prince George’s County schools, and it sparked a lot of controversy in its time of existence. Many football coaches believed that it made their jobs harder to field a quality team.

Subsequently, this rule is no longer in service, but it does raise some questions if this is just a stepping stone to make it easier to drop the grade requirements in relation to creating more successful sports programs.

Demographics seem to play a huge role in this decision as well.

 Some people think that by eliminating a student’s ability to play sports — which sometimes, may be the only reason the athlete attends school — then he or she might abandon school altogether, possibly leading to a life of crime.

Meanwhile, others believe that lowering the grade point average requirements could spark athletes’ interest to perform better academically, while still participating in an extracurricular activity that essentially keeps them out of trouble.

“I felt this rule unfairly targeted the kids who are trying to be a positive part of our school communities, whether it was through athletics or by way of a club,” said Douglass football head coach Julius Pinkney.

“There is at least 65 percent of the student population in every building who do not participate in extracurricular activities. These students should be the primary focus for administration to find ways in getting them involved. Out of that 65 percent, I would gather to say that at least 80 percent of those students are academically ineligible. I want to reiterate that I am for raising the bar if you have a support system in place for those who don’t measure up, but if you are going to raise the bar and leave kids fending for themselves to become eligible, then the system is wrong.”

Nationwide, several schools have dropped their grade requirements in order to better suit their schools’ needs. ESPN reported that more than a dozen school systems have changed their GPA requirements.

The question is: Are we helping youth by lowering GPA requirements to give them an outlet to express themselves? Or are we contributing to the demise of their future to fulfill their egregious lack of performance academically for personal gain as a reward?

Pinkney said, “We need to put an emphasis on ‘inclusion’ and not exclusion, on finding ways to occupy our youth’s time constructively, while providing activities that will continue to teach positive core values. I believe a 2.0 is fair, but it should be the standard for all MPSSAA schools since we all participate by the same rules and regulations in-season and out of season.”

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