Cleveland athletes motivated to score good grades
by Courtney Warren
Jan 15, 2014 | 3255 views | 0 0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Imagine walking into a learning center and hearing a boy sound out the word Wisconsin. Wis-con-sin. The praise from the teacher brings a smile to that boy's face and he continues on with practicing the words before him.

However, that boy is six foot seven and on the basketball team, and that teacher is a college level tutor.

CNN recently did a report about college athletes not being able to meet the reading requirements of their universities because many students in basketball and football programs could read only up to an eighth grade level.

Through investigative research and the use of public records, CNN was able to show that many student athletes do not meet the academic requirements that other non-athletic students were able to meet.

According to CNN, Mary Willingham, a former learning specialist at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, athletes would walk in looking for help with classwork and she discovered some couldn't read or write.

CNN did an investigation and found public universities across the country where many students in the basketball and football programs could read only to an eighth grade level.

In regards to college athletes and academics, DSU Assistant Athletic Director for External Affairs Matt Jones said, "We follow school policy and NCAA regulations regarding academic progress for our student-athletes. Our student-athletes are students first and face the same requirements. We do hold them to a high standard and expect their best."

DSU Athletic Director Ronnie Mayers said in a cabinet meeting on Monday, "Our athlete graduation rate is 60 percent. Graduating our student-athletes is what we're all about."

DSU Men's Basketball Head Coach Jim Boone said he is proud of his players and DSU standards are even higher than the NCAA standards.

"Each of our men's basketball student-athletes are monitored in each of his classes on a weekly to every other week basis; to insure attendance, class participation, progression, and general well-being. We want to be proactive, and hopefully address issues that could lead to poor outcomes before such happens.

"Our student-athletes are held to a higher standard for participation in their sport than other students at DSU," said Boone.

CNN showed in its investigation that the NCAA admits that almost 30 athletes in sports that make revenue for schools were accepted in 2012 with very low scores — below 700 on the SAT composite, where the national average is 1000.

Boone said DSU student-athletes must go through an "intensive eligibility checklist that is monitored by our Athletics Compliance Officer and the DSU Registrar each semester, and then must be reviewed and signed off on by our Athletics Director and the student-athletes coach."

For DSU tennis player Guillaume Lacour, academics are what got him to Delta State, and in order to continue playing tennis, academics are what will keep him there.

"I guess you cannot really compare my situation to American college athletes in the way that in Europe college sports do not exist so when we try to get into a university or business school, engineering school etc., everything is based on our academic level which also means our ability to read and write properly," said Lacour.

"Actually the tennis coach is the only coach at Delta State who is not making sure that the athletes do what they have to do. It means that he does not ask us to go to the academic lab or to the library like some other coaches do," he added, explaining the coach knows the team keeps their GPAs up.

Lacour also said that the team members rely on each other for help, support, and a little friendly competition off the court.

"We try to help each other in the academic discipline we are good at. For example, I help a lot my teammates with business and math classes while some others help me with my English. I also think the fact that our first language is not English in most cases make us study even more than three-fourths of the other students. We need a little bit more time to do our homework properly.

"Also as a small team we like to tease each other when one among us does not have a good GPA so it is a challenge for everyone not to have the lowest GPA of the team," said Lacour.

While the NCAA does a great deal to ensure athletes are making the proper grades and Boone said, "While problems do exist, the current system in place is more extensive and demanding upon the student-athlete than at anytime during my head coach tenure of 28 years, and is upgraded yearly. The NCAA and our athletics administrators truly have our student-athletes best academics at heart and it shows statistically."

Both Boone and Lacour show athletes and coaches must work together to ensure top performance on and off the field, so where does this start?

CNN's investigation raises the questions why or how these student-athletes have made it as far as a four-year university without being able to read past an elementary grade level.

When a student in their early twenties arrive at college they are expected to have passed certain entrance and admission exams, which high schools are supposed to prepare them for.

What exactly are the schools in Bolivar County doing to ensure that students are able to hold their own in a college classroom?

According to Cleveland School District Superintendent Jackie Thigpen, “As in most states, the High School Activities Association has standards that districts must abide by. For us, the MS High School Activities Association governs eligibility for play. The 2013-14 Handbook states that students participating in MHSAA sanctioned activities must make satisfactory progress towards graduation."

Thigpen explained the school monitors progress through graduation requirements and it also states that a student must maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average or a C average in order to participate.

"This average is calculated at the end of each semester to determine eligibility for the next semester. This grade point average not only applies to sports but to all extra-curricular activities," said Thigpen.

Thigpen explained the coaches are also hands-on with their students to ensure they do not fall behind.

"Our coaches and athletic directors also monitor this to assure students are making progress. Both high schools offer interventions and tutoring for students who are in need of extra help," Thigpen added.