POSTED ON JULY 21, 2010:
Down, Set, Study?
With OSSAA throwing the flag on local schools, can athletics and academics still play as a team?
INFORMATION COURTESY OF NCAA
Remember the cliques throughout high school? Before first period in the morning, they strolled the hallways together. At lunch, the cafeteria sat divided as everyone sat at their relegated tables. After school, you could pinpoint where each group would be. It was a simple existence.
There were the popular girls and the cheerleaders, who often overlapped more often than not. You had the gothic kids who dressed in heavy black make-up and leather, and the drama club students who were always theatrical.
Most importantly, you had the jocks and the nerds -- complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Their existence isn't that simple.
Within the next month, schools will return to normal of having these cliques fill cafeterias and hallways across the area.
Almost the same time last year, though, everything wasn't as normal as most would expect.
Last year, Tulsa was rocked as the city quickly discovered two of its top schools for athletics and academics were failing to bridge the gap. In one of the schools, more than 40 student-athletes were affected, and several administrators as well as coaches and staff were forced to step down from their positions.
The community and its schools started a dialogue that continues until this day: "How do you marry brain and brawn?"
A few weeks before the 2009-10 school year and football season were, the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association ruled that one of Jenks' student-athletes was ineligible due to residency and scholastic violations. In addition, Jenks High School was forced to forfeit nine football games from the 2008 season in which the student-athlete, Jarrett Lake, had participated.
Head Coach Allan Trimble, who led Jenks to nine championships, was suspended indefinitely by the OSSAA after review of the infractions.
Two months later, in late October 2009, speculation arose that Tulsa Public Schools were investigating the eligibility of multiple Booker T. Washington High School athletes.
Just days later, Tulsa Public Schools released a statement that 37 student-athletes were discovered to be ineligible due to their academic standings in four sports, which included softball, volleyball, cross-country and football. The number later escalated to more than 40 students in the sport.
"We are aware of our responsibilities to our honorable association with the OSSAA," said area Superintendant of High Schools Kevin Burr in a news release. "Allowing ineligible athletes to participate put BTW at a competitive advantage to other member schools that chose to participate by the guidelines we all agreed to. We have a responsibility to athletes of competing schools as well as our own."
The football coach and athletic director for the school, Antwain Jimmerson, was suspended from his duties for the rest of the year along with four members of the athletic department and BTW principal Micheal Johnson.
Booker T. Washington was forced to forfeit two football games for the use of an ineligible student-athlete. This past January, Jimmerson resigned as coach and athletics director. On June 1, Trimble, the head coach of Jenks, was reinstated and is allowed to resume his coaching duties at Jenks this year.
"I think the biggest thing we have to remember as adults, educators, coaches, parents is the behavior that we model," said Mike Clark, an administrator for the OSSAA. "Our student-athletes will learn more from our actions than our words... I think kids were wronged to some degree."
Tulsa Public Schools declined to comment. Jenks Public Schools could not be reached for comment.
The fallout of the investigations and controversies brought a greater awareness to surrounding schools in the area, too.
"From day one, (Bixby Superintendant Dr. Kyle Wood) has always questioned (co-athletic director) Stephanie Blackwell and myself on whether we have gotten change-of-school forms and that the paperwork is filed," said Bixby head football coach and athletic director Pat McGrew in an October Tulsa World article. "We've bugged the OSSAA so much, they laugh about it. We also inform our coaches that if they have new student-athletes, make sure to do the research. It's one of the toughest things we deal with, making sure a kid is eligible to compete."
How does the question of eligibility even arise, though? Who makes the rules, and how are they enforced?
Playing By the Rules
The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association serves as the governing body for enforcing rules and overseeing the activities of Oklahoma schools. The board of directors who are composed of school officials from across the state create and vote on the rules for schools, coaches, teachers and students to follow.
After the controversies surrounding the two schools, more than 60 percent of the district's principals, athletic directors and coaches reported to a mandatory rules seminar that was hosted by the district as well as the OSSAA.
"As an AD, it's been all about educating people on what they need to do," said Stephanie Spring, athletic director for Tulsa Public Schools and who also sits on the OSSAA board of directors prior to the session. "If they have any questions about eligibility, they need to understand they have to ask them. Rules are rules. They are not optional."
However, many have pointed out that there are a great number of rules to remember as well as a bit of confusion amongst the rules.
"From our end we have seen more schools trying to get a better understanding of the rules," Clark said. "We are going out and doing workshops with schools and administrators to help answer any questions they might have."
Others have expressed that the rules are a few too many for their liking.
"There's no way anyone can know all those rules," former BTW assistant athletic director Ioder "Butch" Fisher told the district in a Tulsa World article. "I can't be expected to memorize all of it."
According to the eligibility rules of the 37-page rulebook of OSSAA, "If a student does not meet the minimum scholastic standard he/she will not be eligible to participate during the first six weeks of the next 18-week grading period they attend." In fact, the rules concerning eligibility continue for three and a half pages of the book.
As Spring said, the rules are the rules, though, and there have been extreme cases to coaches proving a point of being student-athletes.
Case in point -- Coach Ken Carter. His controversy played out on the big screen in Coach Carter, but in real-life it stirred headlines.
In 1999, Coach Carter locked out his entire varsity basketball team from the gym until their grades improved.
While such drastic measures might not need to be taken for every sport and athlete, there appears to be a need to crack down on athletes and their academics more.
"Athletic directors and coaches at large schools are administrators as much as they are coaches," said Brad Heath, editorial director for Vype Oklahoma, a high school athletic magazine. "It's getting to the point where large schools with 80-100 football players need a Compliance Officer to monitor nothing but eligibility. "
Another big factor to consider with student-athletes is their academic eligibility not just for participation but for graduation as well as possible consideration at a college level.
Taking It to the Next Level
"Student athletes know they must maintain their grades to participate in athletics," Heath said. "That is explained to them from the beginning. If you are a student failing a class, you know your eligibility is lost, and you must work to get the grades up, so you can continue to participate."
The same thing can be said if a student-athlete is considering a career at a collegiate level.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association clearly outlines the requirements of student-athletes considering a collegiate athletic career for all divisions (Division I, II and III).
So, for example, if a high school student-athlete would like to earn a scholarship or simply play for a Division I school, they must meet four requirements: they must graduate from high school; complete 16 core courses specified by the NCAA; earn a minimum grade-point average in those courses; and earn a SAT/ACT score that correlates with the grade-point average sliding scale that's specified by the organization.
The list gets more extensive and detailed from there, but there are a number of factors that the NCAA looks at when considering student-athletes for collegiate eligibility. Not to mention, the student still must be accepted to the school of their choosing to move forward.
"A very small percentage of high school athletes receive college scholarships and even smaller yet, is the number of student/athletes who complete four years of athletics," said Clark of the OSSAA.
In fact, the numbers are incredibly small. The chance of a football player graduating and playing collegiate football is 5.8 percent, according to the NCAA. For basketball players, the number decreases to 3.1 percent.
The opportunity to be the next Sam Bradford or Felix Jones decreases from there. Approximately, 1.7 percent of collegiate football players go from playing in the NCAA to the NFL, compared to 1.2 percent basketball players that go from the NCAA to the professional level. For women NCAA basketball players, the number is 0.9 percent to go from college to the WNBA.
These numbers indicate that students should take their education a bit more serious not only for the next level but to prepare for not going to the next level.
Play Hard, Study Harder
"Academics win every time over athletics." Heath said. "The line should never thin and the grades should never fall below that line," Heath said. "If they do, you don't play. If they knowingly play you, then there should be a price to pay."
Out of last year's debacles, no other school districts reported any other ineligibilities or problems. As previously mentioned, surrounding schools began taking extra precautions to make sure they were using every preventative possible.
For example, Union High School has a mandatory stipulation that all student-athletes fill out a new for each sport every school year. Owasso High School has set up an enrollment center for students, which requires all new students to go there first. From there, if a new student participates in athletics, the form is duplicated.
"It's been my experience that the majority of the coaches in Oklahoma want their kids to take academics very serious," Heath said, "but if the OSSAA discovers that a team has played ineligible players in a contest, the school can expect to forfeit the games he or she played."
There's nothing that can be corrected regarding last year's problems, but all could learn from the experience and become better leaders and take more seriously the name of "student-athlete."
Frank Rieder contributed to this article.
URL for this story: http://www.urbantulsa.comhttp://www.urbantulsa.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A31246