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“"I have a couple of friends who, because of the 2.0, they didn't get to play football. So to them, why bother coming to school? A couple have dropped, and there are still a couple in here that don't do the work," he said. Without sports, "I would probably be out selling drugs or shooting people." Rockford, like many of the cities whose districts have abandoned GPA rules, struggles with high crime and high unemployment. About 23 percent of the population in Rockford is below the poverty level, compared to a national average of 14 percent. And it was once labeled one of the top 10 most dangerous cities in America for its rate of violent crimes. "If they don't have the incentive to come to school for a sport they love, they may not come at all," said Mat Parker, director of athletic activities and program development in Rockford. "Oftentimes, in following some of these student athletes, at worst case they end up dead, potentially end up in jail. They're not coming to school." But Roger Blake, executive director of the California Interscholastic Federation, said using socioeconomic factors as a reason to lower the standard is a poor excuse. "As an educator, it's 100 percent wrong ... If we say kids can't attain [a GPA] because of the environment they're coming from, then we're failing those kids," he said. In California -- which has its share of crime-ridden impoverished neighborhoods -- state law requires students have a 2.0 GPA in order to play sports. It's one of 12 states and the District of Columbia that have GPA standards for sports statewide. Blake said coaches and teachers just need to work harder to get students above a C average. "Don't use the excuse, 'We're from a low-economic neighborhood,'" he said, adding that there are plenty of success stories in poor urban areas in Los Angeles, San Diego and the Bay Area to prove that standards do work. Of California's 1.9 million high school students, about 800,000 play sports. "I don't think our rule is holding back too many people," he said.
If they don't have the incentive to come to school for a sport they love, they may not come at all. Oftentimes, in following some of these student athletes, at worst case they end up dead, potentially end up in jail. They're not coming to school.” -- Mat Parker, director of athletic activities and program development, Rockford schools
“Statewide statistics also show the graduation rate is up and the drop-out rate is down, he said. "They raised the level of expectations and students met those expectations." Other critics of abandoning academic standards for sports say doing so is simply sending a bad message. One of those is Ted Biondo, a Rockford newspaper blogger who was on the school board in 2001 when the district introduced the 2.0 rule. "It's like they're getting the reward without having to meet the standards. It should be the other way around," he said. "To just say, 'Well, this keeps kids in school,' well, if that's the only thing that's keeping them in school, then how does that affect all the other kids that are there to learn?" It was an issue of fairness for Alex Trautmann, who graduated from Rockford's Guilford High School earlier this year with a 3.2 GPA. He's currently an outfielder on the baseball team at Grand Valley State University, a Division II college near Grand Rapids, Mich. "If a kid's able to do both -- work hard and maintain in the classroom and on the field -- he shouldn't have to compete with somebody who's one-sided. There's two sides to being a student-athlete," he said. "Student-athletes should be able to handle both the workload in school and in whatever sport it is that they're playing." Getting rid of the 2.0 standard allowed more students to play, he said, but at a price. "I would say the talent level on the field definitely did go up," said Trautmann, who also played football and basketball. "But we did have issues with penalties, people jumping offsides. It's just back to the discipline thing. Kids weren't able to execute." Biondo said he's convinced one of the reasons the district dropped the standard was to make the teams more competitive. This year, about 180 students are playing sports who would otherwise be ineligible. Of those, a dozen are on Auburn High School's football team. The team hadn't won a game in four years, but it pulled off a win in its first game of the season this year and is headed to the playoffs for the first time in more than 20 years.
To just say, 'Well, this keeps kids in school,' well, if that's the only thing that's keeping them in school, then how does that affect all the other kids that are there to learn?” -- Ted Biondo, Rockford Register Star blogger
|Auburn High School senior football player Conttrell Curry says he might not be in school were the GPA requirement not rescinded at his school.|