In the past, report card day held some suspense for high school students.
The waiting game between taking exams and receiving final grades was especially nerve-wracking for student-athletes who were on the edge between eligibility and noneligibility for participating in sports.
Now modern technology has defused the drama. Columbia County's four public high schools administered exams in mid-December, and the release of report cards last week didn't solve any mysteries.
"All the grades go right into the computer, so we knew who was eligible before we left school for Christmas break," said Lee Chomskis, head football coach and athletic director at Evans High School.
Some Evans athletes lost their eligibility for this semester, according to Chomskis, but he says the school's varsity basketball teams emerged unscathed.
Heading into exam week, coaches at Evans weren't prodding students to do any last-minute studying in an effort to make better marks.
"It's not wise to wait until right before exams to take action," Chomskis said. "You have to stay on them from the get-go. During football season, we check grades twice a month, and we send grade sheets around to teachers."
The grade sheet consists of two sections - one marked passing or failing, the other addressing behavior.
At Lakeside High School, football coach and Athletic Director Ed Koester also tries to keep athletes cracking the books.
"We check their progress. Coaches monitor grades on a weekly or bimonthly basis," he said. "We set up early-morning study halls and make sure the kids have an opportunity for tutoring. On Tuesday's during football season we would (start) practice late so the players could work on projects or have tutoring sessions."
The Columbia County school system has a well-earned reputation in academics, but every semester some student-athletes fall short of the required level of classroom performance.
Augusta Christian Schools and Augusta Preparatory Day School are members of the Georgia Independent Schools Association, while Harlem, Lakeside, Evans and Greenbrier are members of the Georgia High School Association.
To remain eligible to play sports, the GISA requires students to pass four Carnegie Unit courses.
"We have a bit higher standard than the GISA," says Steve Price, interim athletic director at Augusta Christian. "To be eligible, students must hold a 77 average. If they fail one class, they have to have an 80 average, and if they fail two classes they are not able to play."
Augusta Prep also holds its students to a stricter standard, according to Athletic Director Kevin Long. "Our standard is to be passing five core subject academic courses, and we don't have a numerical grading system. There's only A, B, C and failing."
Basketball team members Taylor Bird (left) and Thomas Folk take notes in chemistry class at Augusta Prep.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Augusta Prep and Augusta Christian each administered first semester exams before the Christmas break, and both began second semester last week.
"We feel our academic program is really strong," he said. "We've had very few kids be ineligible. The students are anxious to see their report cards, not so much from the standpoint of eligibility, but to see how they did."
Guidelines in public high schools are set by the GHSA rule book, which states, "To be eligible to participate ... a student is required to pass five Carnegie unit subjects counting toward graduation ... the semester or quarter immediately preceding participation."
A student-athlete gains or loses eligibility on the first day of the subsequent semester, with the exception being the semester after summer school. Credits earned during summer school can restore eligibility for the next semester.
Making the grades isn't enough to make the team, though. Students also are required to be "on track" for graduation, which means reaching a certain number of Carnegie units during each subsequent high school year.
At the end of the freshman year, a student needs four units to be on track; 10 is deemed on track for finishing sophomores; and a rising senior needs 16 units to retain eligibility.
"A student could pass five of six classes and still be ineligible," Chomskis said. "Say a junior has passed five classes and is getting ready to play baseball in the spring, and you go back and find that they are half a credit short of what it takes to be a junior. That player would be ineligible, and it would be easy for a coach to miss that."
If an ineligible player slips through the cracks and competes, the team will forfeit all games in which the player participated. The GHSA also can levy a fine for the infraction.
To avoid those dilemmas, coaches must do their homework.
"Every semester we file an eligibility list, and it's meticulous, time-consuming work," Koester said. "We delegate the job to individual coaches, and they funnel the information back through the principal."
Jimmie Lewis also rolls up his sleeves and toils away in an effort to keep athletes competing at Harlem High School. Lewis takes a hands-on approach to his duties as athletic director, head football coach and baseball coach.
"My teams are required to have a weekly progress report on every player," Lewis said. "That way we will have a cumulative grade up to that point and know what kind of help they need.
"My philosophy is, if a player needs tutoring or has make-up work, that takes priority over practice. I like to win, but education is number one. If they can't pass, I'll lose a player anyhow."
The losses aren't confined to competitions - when an athlete can't cut it in the classroom, a vicious cycle can ensue.
"You worry about kids becoming ineligible, because they can get discouraged by not being able to play sports. The next thing you know, they fail one or two more subjects and they get in a hole they can't dig out of," Chomskis said.
"It's not wise to wait until right before exams to take action," Chomskis said. "You have to stay on them from the get-go.
"My philosophy is, if a player needs tutoring or has make-up work, that takes priority over practice. I like to win, but education is number one.
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