Granted, the Surrattsville High School boys basketball team was struggling before the new minimum academic requirements for students wanting to participate in extracurricular activities went into effect in Prince George's County. The Hornets, in fact, hadn't won a game.
But when the new eligibility rule -- requiring a minimum 2.0 or better semester grade-point average -- went into effect Feb. 5, things got even worse. Surrattsville already was in a rebuilding year after losing to graduation most of the team that just missed a playoff spot with a 7-13 record last season. The new academic standards resulted in the loss of all five varsity starters and 11 of the 20 players on the varsity and junior varsity teams.
The Hornets completed their season last Friday with an 0-22 record.
"While it was a rebuilding team before, when the grades came out, it made it worse," said Athletic Director John Zier. "We ended up having players starting on varsity who weren't even starting JV before."
The junior varsity was disbanded in order to field a varsity team, but the Hornets, mostly ninth-graders, were no match for the more experienced county teams. DeMatha transfer B.J. Homesly filled in admirably in a starting role but was lost for the season with a twisted knee. Surrattsville was on the losing end of a 130-60 game with Forestville and a 92-42 game with Central.
Surrattsville officials, understandably, are concerned with the situation. But steps had been taken to prevent players from becoming ineligible, including trips to the feeder junior high school to warn students about their grades.
"I've been doing this for years, so the kids knew," Zier said. "I tell them that everything they want to do has a price tag, and the school board says the price tag to play athletics is academics."
Despite the effects on the athletic program, Zier supports the minimum academic requirements, reasoning that "the kids need to realize that they need 2.0 averages to get scholarships to college.
"I hate to use the word 'lazy' . . . but there may be 1 percent of the students who can't make a 2.0. And if the guidance department does a good job, it's even less than that."
In fact, Surrattsville had one of the county's lowest percentages of students that were ineligible for extracurricular activities, 33.7 percent, and most activities were affected very little.
"The only (activity) in which it had any impact was boys basketball," said Principal Gene Colgan. "A large number of people (that fell below the minimum) were not really involved with activities. We're trying to get the kids to have more involvement in school activities."
Part of the problem with the basketball team, said Colgan, is that neither second-year Coach Mel Johnson nor assistant Barrington Johnson teaches at the school, making supervised study halls for players difficult.
"We're entertaining the idea of changing the schedule to include a 26-minute study hall period for all students," Colgan said. "We'll also be doing more individual instruction and tutorial work with computers. But some of the responsibility is with the students."
The students that were affected have learned a valuable lesson, said Zier, albeit "the hard way.
"It's the best thing the schools could have done for the kids and I hope that they don't back off," Zier said. "In the long run it's going to be beneficial."
"This is showing them the price they must pay," said Colgan.