Making the cut
by Bob Brownne
Oct 26, 2012 | 4803 views | 6 6 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Making the grade
Kimball High head freshman football coach Jeff Telles talks to his team at the end of practice on Wednesday, Oct.24. The freshman team lost 19 players to grades leaving only 27 on the roster.  Glenn Moore/Tracy Press
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Kimball High freshman football coach Jeff Telles knows that just because a player excels on the football field, it doesn’t mean he will line up for the Jaguars on Thursday nights.

Of the 27 Jaguars freshman players suiting up for a game against Weston Ranch on Thursday, Oct. 25, Telles is confident they’re the hardest-working players he can find.

The team started the season with 50 players on the roster. But by Monday, Oct. 22, when first-quarter grades were released, 19 players had been cut from the roster because they did not meet Tracy Unified School District academic standards for student-athletes.

Four other players have left the team this season for reasons not related to grades.

The players still on the team are those with acceptable grades. Football programs are usually affected the most, because they have the most players on the roster.

“You get the kids who are dedicated to be here, and you seem to be more productive in practice,” Telles said.

The academic eligibility policy for Tracy Unified requires coaches drop team members who have lower than an overall C average or receive at least one F during a quarter.

Any athlete dropped because of grades won’t play sports until the next quarterly report card comes out, assuming he or she brings up those grades.

Telles always expects to lose players when the first report cards of the academic year come out.

The freshman coach said he lost 13 players last year as well, even though he does what he can to keep players eligible. He has tried after-school study hall, and more recently enforced temporary suspensions from the team, hoping a lack of playing time will encourage players to improve their grades.

“Last year and this year we’re doing bi-weekly grade checks,” Telles said. “After the second grade check, anybody that has an F, we as a team suspend. That gives them three or four weeks to get their grades in order before the school gets involved and says, ‘Sorry, you’re ineligible.’”

Telles said his concern is that a freshman dropped from a team will get discouraged and won’t be able to catch up with his grades later on. Many high schoolers who don’t make grades once don’t turn it around.

“The sad thing is, about 70 or 80 percent of the kids that don’t make grades as freshman, they’re never eligible again,” Telles said.

Eligible athletes

Athletic directors at Tracy, West and Kimball high schools said the freshman teams are affected most by report card cuts, because it’s the first time the schools hold students accountable for bad grades.

Students are eligible to play sports starting their freshman year regardless of how they did in middle school.

Out of the three high schools, Kimball lost the most freshman football players, who were benched over the course of the quarter as the every-other-week regular grade reports showed they weren’t meeting district standards.

West lost six freshman football players this week, and Tracy lost four.

West High athletic director and varsity football coach Matt Loggins said that the fresh start for incoming freshmen is a good policy, but it also requires coaches to push their players in the classroom as well as on the field.

“All of a sudden, we’re trying to teach these kids how to be high-school-level athletes at the same time trying to teach them to be high-school-level students as well,” Loggins said.

Steve Thornton, Kimball High’s athletic director, who was the original athletic director at West when it opened in 1993, is now in his third year at Kimball.

He agrees with the current policy and thinks freshmen should get a new start when they arrive at high school.

“It used to be, until about five or six years ago, freshmen had to make grades at junior high. They had to come in here eligible,” he said. “Now they waive that, and I was one of the proponents of doing that, because I thought they all ought to start with a clean slate.”

Thornton added that some teams don’t have to worry as much about academic eligibility.

“Our girls sports traditionally don’t get hit hard,” he said. “Tennis had all of their kids eligible. Volleyball, out of their entire program, had one, I think, go ineligible.”

Thornton said allowing all freshman to participate in sports at the beginning of their high school careers helps some get on the right track.

He figures varsity teams most likely have at least a few players who would have been discouraged from signing up if they hadn’t been allowed to try out as freshmen.

“Coaches sometimes have more leverage than anyone else as far as grades,” he said. “I felt that if we could get them started on the right track that we could hook them in for the four years. If you automatically say they’re not eligible from the beginning it’s hard to ever get them back.”

Tracy High freshman football coach Jay Fishburn said he lost four players from his 49-player roster, and would have lost more if he and his coaches were performing grade checks.

“That way we know ahead of time if there are issues we get the kid going, send him to homework help, whatever we need to do to get them to stay eligible,” Fishburn said. “Usually if they do what they’re supposed to do it works out.”

Higher standards

Tracy Unified doesn’t track how many students are academically ineligible to play sports. TUSD Director of Student Services Paul Hall said that it’s up to athletic directors and coaches to check report cards.

Athletic directors at all three Tracy Unified high schools agree that the district’s no-F policy increases the number of students who can’t play sports.

The California Interscholastic Federation standard for athletic participation is a 2.0 grade-point average.

At most schools, a student can compensate for an F in one class with an A in another. Tracy Unified’s rule takes it a step further.

“Probably half of the kids who go ineligible would be eligible if we didn’t have the no-F rule,” Thornton said. “You’re kind of competing at a disadvantage.”

He said that if the F is in a class required for graduation, the student has to repeat the class and bring up the grade, and if it’s in an elective, the student has to produce a report card with no F’s in the next quarter to play.

Tracy High Athletic director Gary Henderson said he also sees students with good grades in most classes held out of sports.

“They might have a 3.0, but might have an F from a class that’s really difficult, or there’s a personality conflict with a teacher,” Henderson said. “We’ve all had kids who had all A’s and B’s and one F. Our district might be one of two or three in the (Sac-Joaquin) Section with the no-F policy.”

Millennium High has an even tougher standard for eligibility, allowing no D’s or F’s on student-athletes’ report cards.

Millennium Athletic Director Jayson Dias said only six athletes became ineligible this fall.

He added that in the past two years, only three football players at the charter school have been cut because of grades.

Athletic directors across the board added that once players know what it takes to stay eligible, the varsity rosters see little effect.

Loggins said the Wolf Pack football team lost two varsity players after this week’s grade report.

“Usually you’re going to lose a handful of kids, but for us it wasn’t devastating,” he said.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
October 30, 2012
Just out of curiosity, what is the graduation rate of TUSD and what is the college attendance percentage? Anyone know?
October 29, 2012
The blame lay first at the feet of the parent for their responsibility to set the standards for participation in anything outside of academics based on meeting a family standard.

Then, the coach cannot spew one thing out of their mouth about student athletes all the while winking at the player as they attend Saturday School. As a coach, our job is to love our players and theirs is to love one another. That said, a child's long-term success is vastly more important than any temporary euphoria brought on by anything brought on by the gridiron.

Unfortunately, the Athletic Directors and coaches here in Tracy save for a few, are not worthy of being trusted with the future of our children. That is why you see a large number of former Tracy Cougars attending schools like St. Mary's of Stockton, DeLa Salle, Berean Christian and Valley Christian.

Just my $ .02
October 26, 2012
I know some live, breath an die football like thair is no other thang on earth, I very much agree with grade based eligibility in High School.

Fer certain many football talented kids have th aspiration ta become professional football players but th statistical facts around that bit of thought is that it probably ain't gonna happen even if thair very good.


Its cus out of all th upper division professional football teams only about 1,700 make th grade enough ta become professional players that bring in all th money an fame kids usually look at when considerin such thangs an th vast majority, many of whom are better players than some who are in fact players now, aren't gonna make it.

If ya look at th average pro an what they end up doin after they drop out of th pro ball business, what are these kids gonna do if th only thang they know is how ta play football an not much of anythang else since they don't have th education an other skills in order ta be successful.

Certainly football an sports activities are a good thang but in reality, fer th most people, a good education is gonna be more worth than an ability ta play football.

Th message here is ta keep up yer grades.
October 26, 2012
Sad story regarding the academics of these athletes. How about we see a positive story on the scholar athletes the schools produce as well?
October 27, 2012
I have coached youth sports in Tracy for 10 years and the mindset of academic achievement begins at the youth level and with parents first. I remember seeing parents spend money on the best equipment while there child was a average student. I would tell them to spend money on tutoring or help for there son first the $200 baseball bat. You cannot rely on the public school system. That's why they call it parenting.
October 31, 2012
To those of you people who write just to be heard. There are 42 players on the tracy high football team and i believe it was 34 who made a 3.17 or higher, I know of at least 4 kids with a 4.0 or higher and the team GPA is above a 3.3 and they have at least 20 players at the JC, D1, or D2 level playing football right now. Those who have attended the JC level of football have recieved scholarships to 4 year schools and are no longer paying the fees that you parents are having to pay for. Hih school sports are opening doors for students who may not have the chance to attend college any othe way. The players are rewarded for the academic excellance as well and things are taken from them when they fall below our benchmarks. Being one that is close to the THS program, Academics are Check every week for those players who have recieved a "C:" on any grade check and those who are recieving A's and B's still do one everyother week. Hopefully all the people who want to respond to this have some knowledge of what they are saying and are not just writing because your bored.

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