The Quince Orchard High School (QOHS) Athletic Department has made a commitment to expecting the best from its student athletes both on and off the field of play.
“As coaches, we hold our athletes to a high standard of excellence on the field in terms of commitment, dedication and discipline. When you can show a student athlete the importance of being more successful off the field than on the field, they begin to realize what being successful truly is,” said QOHS Assistant Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Dave Mencarini.
In order to be eligible to play on an athletic team, student athletes at QOHS must maintain at least a 2.0 average and have no more than one “E” grade on their most recent report card. Incoming ninth grade students are automatically eligible to compete during the first quarter of their freshman year, but returning students’ eligibility is determined by the grades they received in the quarter just preceding their sports season. Students must maintain their grades throughout the season to remain eligible to play.
“The students are student athletes, and therefore the first focus is and always has been on their academics. For many of them, athletics will not be the way that they make a living when they grow up, so focusing on and holding them to a high academic standard helps prepare them for their future,” said Colleen Kelly, coach of the QOHS varsity girls’ softball team.
“During the season, coaches are emailed weekly grade reports for each athlete. The grade report lists each athlete’s current grade percentage in each class,” she said. “Based on this report, the coach can look up a student’s grades for a class in which they are struggling, print the report, give it to the student, and encourage him to work with his teacher to improve the grade.”
The process of holding students accountable for their performance in the classroom seems to be working. A document produced by the school’s Athletic Department clearly shows that student athletes are getting the message about maintaining their grades. A total of 429 students participated in 2011 fall sports including football, cross country, soccer and field hockey. The overall grade point average (GPA) for these athletes was a 3.43, and no sports team fell below an average GPA of 3.18.
Likewise, spring 2012 student athletes playing baseball, softball and tennis, among other sports, were equally successful off the field. The average GPA for the 362 students playing spring sports was a 3.37.
“We have started a study hall program that student athletes with an E in any class on their weekly grade report must attend until the grade is brought up,” said Kelly. “The study hall is offered a few times a week and is run by members of our athletics staff.”
Often, great performance in the classroom can lead to great performance on the field. “When a player kicks butt in the classroom, on the field, and treats others the right way, they learn internal motivational skills that set them up for success for the remainder of their life,” said Mencarini.
“When a student can succeed in a classroom it gives them more confidence. That enthusiasm and excitement transfers directly onto the field,” said Kelly.
Despite their best efforts, sometimes students are not able to maintain eligibility, and coaches must make the tough decision to keep a player off the field.
“What kind of message am I sending if I ignore the academic progress of a player? The message becomes about winning, and that is not what is most important in high school football,” said Mencarini.
The decision to keep a player off the field is never an easy one. “It is difficult to keep a student from playing, but it teaches the valuable lesson that their schoolwork must come before their athletics,” said QOHS Athletic Director Lisa Schrader.
Although it must be difficult for the parents of students who have lost eligibility to watch their children be excluded from play, the coaches say that they never get pushback from parents on their decision not to let a student compete. “Parents realize that academics come first. For those students who plan on playing at the next level, it is important that they maintain a high GPA,” said Kelly.
“I’ve never gotten any negative feedback from this. I have had players who didn’t have their priorities defined for them. These are family, school, football and then social life,” said Mencarini.
All of the coaches hope their student athletes will take lifelong lessons away from their time at QOHS.
“I hope the students leave with three major things. The first is that they were a part of a program that taught them more than just how to win. The second is that they won a lot of games the right way. The third is that they recognize that nothing successful happens by accident,” said Mencarini.
“I hope that the students feel like they were in a loving, caring environment where teachers and coaches truly cared about them and their future,” said Schrader. “I hope that the students learn and grow not just academically, but also mature and are better people when they leave. Better able to problem-solve, communicate and have confidence in their abilities and decision-making with a clear goal for what they want to do with the rest of their life, or a plan to help them reach that point.”