My proposal in the Virginia House -- the so-called no pass-no play bill -- has brought academic standards in the public schools into the spotlight. Simply stated, the legislation mandates that students earn at least a 1.6 grade point average and pass five classes in order to participate in extracurricular activities the following semester.

One by one, other states are tightening their academic requirements in hopes of turning out better-educated students who are more equipped to deal with the outside world and with real jobs. It is high time we took a look at Virginia's public school system and where the emphasis is being placed: on academics or on sports and other extracurricular activities.

Over the past several years, more and more attention has been given to high school sports programs. Excelling in athletics, especially in underprivileged areas, has become a way to raise one's social status and become a leader in the community. The superior athlete often becomes a role model for other children. Unfortunately, many of these athletes put their sport first and their studies second, if at all. Other students see this, and eventually come to believe that if one is successful in athletics, academics are unimportant.

By allowing weak academic standards to exist in our school system, we are reinforcing the idea that extracurricular activities are more important than schoolwork. Sometimes it is popular to champion a cause of mediocrity, but in the long run, we are only harming our young people by not encouraging them to develop all aspects of themselves to their fullest potential.

The place to begin preparing for a career is in high school, not college, where the academically unprepared student is already at a disadvantage. The passage of a statewide no pass-no play bill would allow teachers to motivate and encourage students to achieve academic success.

Oftentimes, students don't realize just how much they can accomplish until they are forced to try. We owe it to our young people to instill in them one of life's most important lessons: in order to play, you must first learn to work.

By tightening academic requirements, the Virginia public school system could turn out students it can be proud of: students who are well developed athletically and academically and, most important, who are well prepared to participate in extracurricular activities and pursue a career.