The winter sports roster at Alexandria's junior and senior high schools was minus 13 athletes recently as the first group of students fell victim to the controversial C-average eligibility rule that took effect last fall.
The rule requires athletes to maintain a C average for the two grading quarters before the playing season and the grading period during the season. Even if the recently benched students raise their cumulative average to a C during the present grading period, they will not be able to participate in school sports until the fall season because spring sports practice begins at the end of February.
A number of coaches opposed the rule, saying that it unfairly penalized athletes and failed to take into account sports as an academic motivator. Black leaders lauded the C-average rule as a way to break the notion that athletics is the only ticket to success for blacks.
A total of 387 students intended to take part in winter sports at T.C. Williams, Francis C. Hammond Junior High and George Washington Junior High. School officials said that the number of ineligible students was lower than expected.
"Some of the kids felt that this was something that we would forget about. Well, we didn't forget. Next time I hope the number of ineligible students is fewer," said School Board Chairwoman Lou Cook.
"I figured we'd have 6 to 8 percent below a C average . As it turned out we have about 3 percent," said Tony Hanley, director of secondary education.
Notices sent after the first grading period ended last November warning 33 athletes to raise their grades also may account for the low number who fell below the mark, Hanley said. In addition, teachers began volunteering time this year for after-school tutoring sessions with athletes and other students as part of the schools' increased efforts to raise the academic achievement of minority students.
The group of disqualified athletes, which includes boys and girls, has members of the basketball, swimming, wrestling and cheerleading teams at the varsity, junior varsity and freshman levels.
T.C. Williams athletic director Don Riviere, who along with a number of coaches originally opposed the C-average rule, said the low number of benched athletes has changed their minds. "I think it's a plus now. I'd like to see it applied to all extracurricular activities," Riviere said.
Coaches, athletes and teachers were given notice so they could shore up falling grades. "When the seven names came up at T.C. Williams it was no surprise to the coaches or kids. Hopefully the athletes will see the light and get their act together," Riviere said. "We'd like to get to the point where we have none" benched, Riviere said.
Before the board voted on the C-average standard for athletes, there were some proposals to apply it to students in all extracurricular activities. But Cook said there are no plans to extend the rule at this point.
There are two exceptions to the C-average rule. Athletes who would otherwise be ineligible can continue to play if their team goes on to post-season regional playoffs. Also, parents can appeal the decision to bench a student to the school principal if they feel their child is working to his potential, which might be below the C average. No parents of any the first group of benched athletes appealed the decision, school officials said.
In addition to the C-average rule, the city schools will continue to enforce previous academic requirements for student athletes, including a state regulation that requires high school athletes to pass four of their six classes and a weekly eligibility card that can temporarily sideline an athlete whose work is judged unsatisfactory by a teacher.