At first glance, the no pass-no play legislation introduced in the Virginia General Assembly by Del. J. W. (Billy) O'Brien seems to make sense. It emphasizes academics, and that's as it should be.

But before jumping on the no pass-no play bandwagon, let's take a closer look at some of the ramifications of the bill.

First, students who participate in extracurricular activities tend to have higher grade point averages, better attendance records, lower dropout rates and fewer discipline problems than students who don't participate. They also learn self-discipline, build self- confidence, develop leadership skills and acquire the skills necessary to deal with competition.

Studies conducted by the American College Testing Service and the College Board indicate that one of the best predictors of success in later life is whether students participate in extracurricular activities during their high school years. Kept in the proper perspective, these programs complement and support academic goals; they are not frills, as some would lead you to believe. Shouldn't our efforts be directed toward keeping students involved in these programs, rather than excluding them?

Second, there is the issue of local versus state control. Now, eligibility rules for interscholastic athletics are established by the Virginia High School League. The rules established locally for athletics may be more strict than those set by the VHSL, but may not be more lenient.

The local school boards have accepted the responsibility for maintaining standards in this area. Over the past two years, for example, the Fairfax County board has discussed -- and made more strict -- the eligibility rules. Last spring, for example, after reviewing the grades of nearly 6,900 student athletes, the school board's instruction committee lent its support to a monitoring system whereby academic performance of students participating in extracurricular activities would be evaluated. The plan, which is to go into effect this spring, was designed to identify students who are experiencing academic difficulty and to provide guidance and support when needed.

This local monitoring system was developed without a state mandate. Schools need the flexibility to deal with local problems.

So, thank you, Del. O'Brien, for calling attention to this important issue, but no thanks to your statewide no pass-no play proposal.