Last updated: July 23. 2014 10:03PM - 535 Views
By - sstinson@civitasmedia.com

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ROCKINGHAM — The NCAA is doing its best to debunk the stereotype of athletes being labeled as just “dumb jocks.”

Beginning in 2016, the academic standards for student-athletes wanting to play on the Division I level will increase.

The minimum requirements the NCAA has decided to use — 2.3 GPA, the completion of 16 core courses as well as a corresponding ACT or SAT test score based on a sliding slide — far exceeds what the North Carolina High School Athletic Association states an athlete needs to stay eligible.

NCHSAA bylaws state a student-athlete needs to pass at least five classes in the traditional school schedule or three in the block format like Richmond Senior uses. This is the bare minimum the NCHSAA requires and defers to the local school boards for tougher standards.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, for example, requires its student-athletes to maintain a 2.0 GPA. In Wake County, it’s a 1.5 GPA to remain eligible to participate in athletics. Richmond County follows the NCHSAA guidelines.

This doesn’t mean the student-athletes at Richmond Senior are coming up short in the classroom. As a whole, the teams are quite successful academically. Over the past three years, 12 of Richmond’s teams carried an overall GPA of at least 3.1.

According to Rick Strunk, the NCHSAA’s associate commissioner for communications, this information shouldn’t surprise anyone.

“There was a study of high school students in North Carolina that showed athletes had an average 2.8 GPA, compared to a 1.9 for non-athletes,” Strunk said.

The study Strunk mentions was conducted by Roger Whitley. It examined a three-year period from 1993-96 and included nearly 286,000 students at 133 of the NCHSAA’s member schools. Whitley’s study showed in addition to having a higher GPA, athletes fared better than non-athletes in attendance rate, dropout rate and most importantly, graduation rate.

Athletes missed roughly half the number of days of school (6.52 to 12.57) compared to their non-athlete counterparts, according to Whitley’s study. The dropout rate for athletes was nearly 12 times lower than non-athletes. Whitley showed only 0.7 percent of athletes elected to leave high school, while 8.98 percent of non-athletes dropped out.

The most telling statistic in Whitley’s study is that 99.56 percent of athletes graduated from high school and 94.66 percent of the other students earned their diplomas.

Ashton Davenport, a recent graduate of Richmond with a 4.8 GPA, played two sports — softball and volleyball. Even though she was a three-time selection to the North Carolina Softball Coaches Association all-state team and recruited to play in college, Davenport elected to attend N.C. State and walk away from athletics.

She credits playing sports as well as her parents’ guidance for assisting her in achieving the high marks while in high school.

“The coaches and my teammates could help me if I had a problem with a class,” Davenport said.

Davenport felt she wasn’t alone in attempting to break the stereotype of athletes being unable to find the balance between success in the classroom and on the athletic fields. But Davenport added she understands some of her classmates may not have placed as much emphasis on hitting the books.

“Everybody has their own goals, some valued athletics over academics,” Davenport said. “They are relying on their athletics to help them get to the places they want to go. I looked at sports as just a fun thing to do.”

Those Davenport are talking about who are focused more on their athletic success may have fallen into a rut a professor in the Stanford Graduate School of Education believes happens with student-athletes, especially males.

Thomas Dee writes in a study that if a student-athlete believes that they are thought to be a dumb jock, they may just fulfill that expectation. In his research, Dee gave two groups of students from an East Coast university a set of questions based on the Graduate Record Examination-style tests. When student-athletes were reminded that they play sports, they scored around 12 percent lower than the non-athletic students.

The study showed males believed the dumb jock stereotype more than females. To combat this issue, Dee believes having a coach, a counselor or academic adviser speak to the student-athletes before the season could help them overcome their feelings or beliefs that they are just dumb jocks.

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a series on academics and athletics. Friday’s story will focus on whether the Richmond County School Board plans on toughening its academic requirements.

Reach sports editor Shawn Stinson at 910-817-2671 or on Twitter @scgolfer.

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