ROCKINGHAM — Stuck between a rock and a hard place.
This is where the majority of the state’s school boards find themselves when addressing the minimum requirements for one of their student-athletes to be academically eligible.
The vast majority of school boards follow the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s guidelines of a student-athlete needing to pass at least five classes in the traditional school schedule or three of four in the block format like Richmond Senior uses.
Rick Strunk, the NCHSAA’s associate commissioner for communications, said the organization doesn’t plan on increasing its minimum standards on academics right now even though NCAA requirements will toughen in two years.
“It’s a very small percentage, something like half a percent, that go on and play in college,” Strunk said. “The rules are there for the other 99.5 percent. Having them in play in college is a nice byproduct, but that is not our purpose or our focus.”
If a student-athlete were to do the bare minimum to remain eligible, they could carry a GPA of less than 1.0 and still be able to compete for their high school.
Some would say it isn’t fair because students are in high school to learn and prepare themselves for the “real world,” not just play sports. Others would argue allowing a student like this to play sports helps keep them in school and off the street.
In other words, it’s a double-edged sword.
Richmond athletic director/baseball coach Ricky Young believes in keeping the academic requirements at their current level because doing so gives more students the opportunity to play sports.
Young added he fears if school boards enact minimum GPAs, there could be an increase in the number of dropouts.
Richmond County Board of Education members Jerry Ethridge and Joe Richardson are interested in exploring the pros and cons of putting a minimum GPA in place for participation in extracurricular activities. Board chairman Wiley Mabe is a little more cautious about the possibility.
Mabe believes the coaches at Richmond push their players to succeed in the classroom as well as on the athletic fields. Mabe is also concerned with the public’s support on the subject.
“Everybody has got to be on the same page,” Mabe said. “It is something worth considering and seeing if the community will support it.”
Richardson wants to have an open discussion about raising the academic standards. He wants to hear input not only from fellow board members, but teachers, coaches and community members as well.
“I would like to have an open dialogue with all the stakeholders in this, not just the coaches,” Richardson said. “I think we have to set some standards.”
Richardson added he is interested to learn more about the results in Charlotte-Mecklenburg (minimum 2.0) and Wake County (1.5) when those school boards decided to set GPA requirements for their student-athletes.
“I think it is something we could look at,” Richardson said. “Sometimes we set our expectations too low.”
Ethridge tries to look at the big picture of helping the student-athlete do well in all aspects of their time in high school.
“The ultimate goal is helping the student be successful,” Ethridge said. “I’m not against looking at it behind the scenes and looking at the positives and the negatives.”
Ethridge, Mabe and Richardson agree if Richmond County does decide to use a similar model as CMS, it wants to ensure the public understands the guidelines.
“If it is out in front for everyone, then it is fair,” Mabe said.
Sue Doran, the athletic director for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, said the minimum GPA requirement has been in place since she started in her position eight years ago. She admits the rule could keep some students from participating in athletics.
“I’m sure it does, but they know what they have to do,” Doran said.
Doran is a proponent of the minimum GPA because she believes it pushes the student-athletes to exceed their own expectations in the classroom, but also helps get them into college.
“I think the one thing the GPA rule does it stop the mentality of focusing on pass/fail,” Doran said. “It makes them focus on getting a good grade.
“Some of the coaches have said when a college recruiter comes, they know no one is going to have a GPA below 2.0.”
Editor’s note: This is the third part of a series on academics and athletics. Saturday’s story will focus on how parents can prepare their children for the tougher NCAA academic requirements.
Reach sports editor Shawn Stinson at 910-817-2671 or on Twitter @scgolfer.