SEBRING, Ohio (WJW)– When the Ohio High School Athletic Association began the 2020-2021 school year by eliminating academic eligibility requirements for student athletes because of COVID-19, administrators at Sebring Local Schools discovered something remarkable.
“We noticed several students came out to play football that hadn’t played before and we were noticing then that they seem to be very engaged in school now,” said Sebring superintendent Toni Viscounte
“As they got to be part of a team, part of a process and structure you could see a change in them and how they were conducting themselves, not just on the field, but in the hallways and in the classrooms etc.,” said Tony Krumpak, principal of Sebring McKinley High School.
“If we were not granted the waiver from the Ohio High School Athletic Association, those kids may not have blossomed in the way that they ended up blossoming so its been a pleasant surprise that we are grateful for,” Krumpak said.
Sebring has had a C average requirement for student athletes, but the state requires districts to set a numerical grade point average for its eligibility policy so Viscounte said she intends to recommend her school board adopt a 1.5 grade point average, which would be a D.
“We definitely advocate that our students are scholars first and athletes second, but hopefully by providing this opportunity to them, they will value education and strive to keep their grades up and maybe even exceed the 2.0 that is currently in place,” Viscounte said.
Like Sebring, the Canton City Schools has also had a C, or a 2.0, eligibility requirement for students to participate in extracurricular activities.
But, also like Sebring, Canton Superintendent Jeffrey Talbert is asking his board of education to adopt a lower 1.5 GPA minimum academic requirement to allow students to participate in sports and other activities, but with the expectation they will have an incentive to work towards improving academically.
“Our new policy says that if you do fall below a 2.0 and you get a 1.5 or somewhere in between, we are going to allow you to participate as long as you are involved in our academic intervention program,” Talbert said.
“It has been spun into this, ‘They’re lowering the bar.’ No, we are not lowering the bar, we are changing our academic policy so that we can increase a wider net,” Talbert said.
Talbert said he also believes that students who are engaged in team or other school activities become better engaged in their schoolwork, feel more accepted and are more motivated to become better students.
“What’s being lost here is that, ‘Oh, that kid is a 1.5 player. Yes they are, if they are involved in our academic intervention plan and they are making progress towards getting towards a 2.0,” he said.
“I understand that people feel that this is something that people are really stirred up about because they want us to hold our students to a higher level of expectation and I believe we are doing just that.”
Because the Ohio High School Athletic Association allows individual school districts to set their own academic eligibility requirements, many of them already have a requirement that is below a C average.
But Talbert said he is not asking his board to change their policy because other schools are doing it.
“When we decided that we were going to create a athletic or interscholastic athletic policy that allowed us to embrace and support more kids that was about Canton City Schools.”
“What I want folks to understand is that we still expect academic excellence from all of our students including our student athletes. However, we know that kids who are engaged in the school, whether that be through positive relationships with staff members, whether they participate in a co-curricular activity or whether they are involved in athletics, those kids have a higher likelihood of having a positive outcome a positive education outcome,” Talbert said.
“We are trying to create as many opportunities for our students to be successful as we possibly can.”