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.
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.”
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.