Reporters always will vie to see who can get the most outlandish quote in the paper, but it won’t be easy to match The Advocate’s Charles Lussier.
It was Lussier’s good fortune to cover the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board debate on a proposal to lower the GPA required for extracurricular activities from 2.0 to 1.5.
Among those opposed to the change was a former high school athletic coach. “I believe in a 2.0. I believe you should keep the bar high,” he said. As a sporting type, however, he was obliged to mention one factor that might support a contrary view. “The 1.5,” he allowed, “will save people’s lives.”
It is at such moments that the reporter is liable to drop his pen. With a lower GPA requirement, the coach pointed out, more kids could have made the team and had the advantage of his mentoring. His belief in a 2.0 might be regarded as somewhat dogged.
Warren Drake, the new schools superintendent whose idea the proposal was, also claimed that lowering the bar was “about saving lives,” and he presumably intended to be taken literally. It makes sense for a kid with a talent for football who has been barred from the team to find other outlets for his energy, and the streets may offer plenty of opportunities of a less wholesome nature. He will be all the more easily led astray by the sense of resentment that inevitably accompanies rejection.
If disqualification on academic grounds really does cost lives, of course, logic says there should be no GPA requirement at all. But 1.5 is close enough to letting everyone play. Any kid with a lower GPA might need help putting his cleats on.
A 1.5 is good enough for most school districts in Louisiana and was the standard in Baton Rouge until it was raised 10 years ago. That meant more than 2,200 students would lose their extracurricular eligibility if they didn’t shape up, but there is no evidence that the change has led to a mass hitting of the books. Indeed, had a 2.0 requirement brought a general raising of standards, Drake would not now be in favor of reverting.
Barring kids from extracurricular activities in fact appears to make their grades even lower and make them more likely to drop out. When they are allowed to participate, “they are more likely to take pride in their schools; they are more likely to have parental involvement,” according to Drake.
Several board members had severe reservations about Drake’s proposal to start with, which was only to be expected, given that Louisiana schools do not suffer from an excess of academic rigor. But a lower GPA for, say, high school football players has no effect on graduation standards, and board members are evidently now convinced that they are not being asked to go along with a dumbing-down exercise. They are expected to endorse 1.5 unanimously today.
If the role of schools is to give all kids a chance to develop their talents, this is surely a smart move. Kids with poor grades may be lazy, but they also may be plain dumb. If they happen to have an athletic gift, denying them a chance to excel means they are punished for what may not be their fault. There being no connection between ball skills and brainpower, moreover, the rest of us may never get to see some great talents.
But America alone remains wedded to the myth of the scholar/athlete, with NFL players always identified by the college or university where they purportedly studied. In countries where soccer is king — pretty much the rest of world — clubs recruit players in their teens and academe is a separate world. Those countries are thus spared the various frauds and fudges required to maintain the pretense that professional athletes all have plenty of brain to go with the brawn. Nobody believes it, but we are too polite to say so.
Lowering the GPA requirement in Baton Rouge may help many a talented kid in high school, but college ball still may be out of reach. The GPA requirement for incoming freshmen to play sports is 2.0 but is set to go up to 2.3 next year. We can only hope it won’t cost lives. Some people might think that would make it a bad idea.
James Gill’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.