Archive for Academics v. Athletics

EVERYBODY GETS A TROPHY: Half of All Graduating HS Seniors Have an A Average?

There was an article that ran in USA TODAY recently that caught my eye, and I have to confess, it reminded me of the old “everyone gets a trophy” debate.

And what’s curious about this article is that it has nothing – at least on the surface – to do with sports or sports parenting in this country.

But the more I read it, the more I wondered whether this is somehow linked to our national epidemic of parents intervening on behalf of their kids when their kids are not achieving the results what the parents had hoped for.

Okay let me explain:

In short, the article said that half of all US HS senior now graduate with an A average….47% to be exact.

Now think about that. All of us grew up in a school system where the very best students received an A…then there were B grades….C meant average…D below average and so on.

But traditionally, the grading system was set up so that maybe the top 10 percent of the class received A’s.

And here’s the catch on this: because if it’s true that our students are now so smart that half of them are truly A students upon graduation, well, then, we really have something to crow about!

But the USA TODAY article goes on to explain that despite this rise in academic grading, the truth is that the objective standardized tests that our country uses…the SAT…well, those scores are actually going down.

That means that despite the fact the more HS students are getting A’s, the truth is that – according to their SAT scores — they’re really not doing as well  as a generation ago.

What does this mean? I mean, I know I’m old school, but to me, this study suggests that perhaps as more and more sports parents are intervening with their kids’ HS and middle school sports careers, maybe the same thing is happening with their academics.

That is, if a youngster comes home with a report card that isn’t covered with A’s, then the parents decide that the teacher is at fault, and they go battle the educator or threaten a lawsuit rather than sit down with their son or daughter to see why they’re not studying or reading more at home. And as several teachers said on my show this AM, rather than engage in endless squabbles with the parents or their kids regarding grades, the teachers often cave in – and give them what they want…an A.

In a day and age where seemingly every kid grows up and expects a trophy, are we reaching a point where every kid should also get an A?

I worry that perhaps that along the way, some of the more fundamental lessons of teaching a youngster a sense of work ethic….of how to study properly….of getting a real sense of what it means to put in solid effort and then being rewarded with a top grade….are we losing those valuable  lessons for our kids?


Curiously, in 1998 – about 20 years ago –  only 39 percent of HS seniors had an A average. So clearly, at least on the surface, it would seem our kids must be getting smarter – because more kids are getting A’s.

Except….that the national average on SAT tests have actually gone in the other direction: they have dropped from a national average of 1026 out of 1600 to 1002!

Clearly if our kids were getting smarter, then the SAT scores would be going up, not down.

I am wondering if this trend is emblematic of our nation’s parental obsession with every kid gets a trophy mentality, and if more and more parents are meddling with their kids’ teachers in school to get better grades.

A few years ago, I recall reading where in a HS in Texas, the graduating class had 37 valedictorians…37! Apparently they all had straight A averages, and were all tied for having the best GPA in school. I mean, really? Is that possible?

Yes, I know getting into a top college is more competitive than ever these days…but if we’re at a point where half the graduating seniors have an A average, then perhaps the time has come to just focus on objective tests like the SAT or ACT.

Now, In terms of athletes, I wonder if this cultural mindset for excellence is affecting their approach to assuming that they’re going to make a varsity team…or will be good enough to play in college….or in general, just skew their attitude towards sports and personal accomplishment.


I also want to point out from this USA TODAY article:

O The research strongly suggests that much of the grade inflation occurs in primarily white and affluent school districts

O That in private schools, the rate of inflation is about three times higher than in public schools

O And the percentage of HS students receiving an overall B average is at 44%….that means, if 47% of the kids are getting A’s, and 44% are getting Bs, only about 9 % of all HS students are graduating with a C average.

Again, this particular show was a bit of a stretch from sports parenting….but then, again, when it comes to sports parents and expecting their kid to succeed in both sports and in school, maybe this program was right on target.

ACADEMICS V. ATHLETICS: What Should Receive Top Priority?



When the State High School Athletic Association Spurns Academics

By Doug Abrams


Every so often, a news story appears about some state legislature considering a bill so commonsensical that we wonder why the lawmakers even spend their time on it. Bills proclaiming “State Tulip Week,” or declaring the turnip as the “Official State Vegetable,” come to mind.

If you didn’t know better, you would think that Rep. John W. Scibak introduced a time waster in the Massachusetts House of Representatives on June 20. Rep. Scibak’s bill would prohibit the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA), which oversees high school sports, from scheduling games and other competitions on mornings when the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) or the ACT examination is administered to high school students nationwide.

The bill’s seriousness rises above tulip weeks or state vegetables, but scheduling interscholastic games to assure full, unfettered access to college entrance examinations should be a no-brainer, even without legislation. The bill is really about respecting students’ academic well being, and it attracted 62 co-sponsors in its first four hours.

The bill been assigned to the Joint Committee on Education, which reportedly will hold public hearings on it this month. Unless the MIAA commits to putting the SAT and other college entrance examinations first, the bill deserves to sail through the state legislature with bipartisan support. High school sports are “extracurricular” activities; the curriculum comes first.

 “For Academic Reasons”

Controversy arose a few days before Rep. Scibak introduced his bill, when the MIAA scheduled a rained-out Division I North semifinal baseball game for Saturday morning, June 7 at 10:00, smack in the middle of the SAT’s nationwide administration.  The semifinal pitted Chelmsford High and Methuen High, whose rosters included ten players (seven from Chelmsford and three from Methuen) who had signed up to take the SAT that morning. Most or all were juniors taking the exam for the first time as they prepared for their senior year.

Superintendents, principals and coaches at both schools requested the MIAA to move the semifinal game for a few hours, or a day or so, because fields were available and, as Methuen’s athletic director put it, “we are all here for academic reasons.”

When the MIAA refused the request, both high schools allowed individual players to choose between their academic futures and the playoff game that they had earned. It was a choice that no teen should have to make. Methuen’s coach said that he urged his juniors to take the SAT, and the two schools considered boycotting the game and taking forfeits.

The teams ultimately played in Lowell on Saturday morning with both rosters depleted, Chelmsford by four players and Methuen by three. But that is not all because college entrance examinations are rigorous intellectual exercises that demand a student’s undivided attention. We can only surmise whether the MIAA’s intransigence may have compromised the futures of test takers who, having wrestled with dual loyalties to academics and their teams, underperformed as their minds drifted to the playoff game a few miles down the road.

Two other high school teams, Turners Falls and Hopkins Academy, faced the same “SAT or baseball” conflict that Saturday morning because the MIAA scheduled them to play their WMass Division IV championship game at 10:30, also smack in the middle of the SAT. All affected players chose the game over the exam. For years, the MIAA evidently has also forced athletes in other sports to grapple with similar scheduling conflicts that should not arise in the first place.

Present Test-Taking and Future Effect

College entrance examinations are serious business. By assuming a significant role in the college and university admissions process, they can affect high school students for the rest of their lives. The SAT’s June administration is critical for juniors because the exam and its subject exams will not be administered again until October.

With the June scores, juniors and their families can most efficiently plan summer visits to schools that draw their interest, including ones some distance from home. Sitting for the SAT in June also enables juniors to take the exam a second time in October if they want to try to bolster their score. Knowing that they can retake before the application season heats up in the autumn may reduce tension on some June test takers, and thus improve their performance.

Receiving the ultimate SAT scores as early as possible enables students to spend maximum time applying to colleges and universities that offer not only suitable academic programs, but also realistic prospects of admission and possibly financial aid. Students who apply to colleges and universities with a rolling admissions process, or who apply early decision or early action, may receive earlier acceptance than students who sit for the exam for the first time in October and then contemplate a retake.

“An Extension of the Classroom”

The MIAA embarrasses public education in Massachusetts and sullies its own mission statement when it forces teens to choose between the classroom and the locker room. The MIAA website says that “[t]he goal of interscholastic athletics is to give young people the opportunity to expand their educational horizons” through “commitment to the educational nature of interscholastic athletics.” Interscholastic sports “in an educational perspective,” adds the MIAA, “is an extension of the classroom.”

We teach young athletes that “there is no ‘I’ in ‘TEAM.’”  There is, however, an “I” in “MIAA.” The “I” stands for “interscholastic.” As in “scholastic.” Now that the state association has shown that it does not take its own mission statement seriously, vindicating the core purposes of public education is a major reason why legislators hold their official positions.

Dropping the Ball

P.S.  Bravo to the Chelmsford and Methuen players, who, according to the Boston Globe, “honored their missing teammates by laying out their jerseys on the field during the national anthem.” High school sports fulfills its mission best when the role models are the adults and not the players, but the adults running the MIAA committed an error by dropping the ball.

With their on-field display, players on both teams sent an unmistakable message about team unity, respect for their absent teammates, and the proper roles of academics and sports. I hope that younger kids in their communities were watching. I even hope that the MIAA elders were watching because they could learn plenty from the teens. The players acted silently, but with dignity and force that set the standard high, where it belongs.

[Sources: Douglas Moser, Proposed Bill Would Avoid Playoffs vs. SATs, Gloucester (Mass.) Daily Times, June 12, 2014; Joseph Saade, MIAA Won’t Budge on SATs: Game Will Be Played, Boston Globe, June 7, 2014; Joseph Saade, Chelmsford Tops Methuen in Game Clouded By SAT Controversy, Boston Globe, June 8, 2014; MIAA, Sportsmanship, ]