The Sporting Life . . .

Schools are supposed to see to it that academic work comes ahead of athletics. But what are teachers and principals to do when an outstanding athlete suddenly flunks a test or stops turning in assignments at the peak of the season? Often, of course, they don't do anything and the youngster coasts along on his athletic ability, learning nothing in the classroom. Last March two of this paper's sports writers, Leonard Shapiro and Donald Huff, published a poignant series of descriptions of young athletes who had coasted too long and, leaving school, suddenly realized that they had nowhere to go.

But it doesn't always work that way. At Alexandria's T.C. Williams High School, every youngster in interscholastic competition must get an eligibility card signed every week by each teacher. The school's track team went to the regional meet his month without its star jumper; he'd fallen down in English. T.C. Williams won the meet by a single point. The school took its boys' varsity eight-oared shell out of the Stotesbury Cup Regatta last weekend in Philadelphia. It was partly because another couldn't get his card signed. At the regatta, one of the girls' varsity eight was pulled out at the last minute for the same reason. It hasn't been a particularly brilliant season in sports this spring at T.C. Williams. But the school deserves a gold medal for keeping its priorities in order.

. . . Budget Games . . .

One familiar game involving student athletes is the competition for budget money that occurs each year in various jurisdictions around town. A school system opens by requesting a certain amount of money for its total budget. Then the city or county council, with an assist from the local executive, cuts that amount. The school system retaliates with a cry of anguish and a game plan that includes a cut in the athletic program. That sets up a roar from parents and students and then - somehow - the athletic program is usually rescued.

Such a game has been taking place in Montgomery County, where the county council has cut funds and the school board has decided to do away with the interscholastic sports program in junior high schools - just as the program was being revised to equalize girls' and boys' programs. So far, the reaction we've been getting to this decision has been louder than any community protests about the far deeper cuts that for a time were being contemplated in the teachers' already-negotiated cost-of-living pay increase. When the choice really is between funds for teaching and momey for more coaches, the interscholastic athletic program surely has to take a back seat. But we suspect that - one way or another - some sort of healthy (if less organized) athletic competition between schools can be continued without huge expense. . . . And Smart Playing

For keen interscholastic competition involving all the high schools around town, there's been no sport quite like "It's Academic" - the knowledge-testing contests on television here each school year. True, the capacity for instant recall demonstrated by these high school students is bad for the ego of a lot of adults who like to think of themselves as reasonably well educated. But the effects of the program on the schools have been impressive. In many of the schools, the show's format is used for intramural competitions. There's even been an "It's Academic" contest in German, promoted by the American Association of Teachers of German.

On June 19, the television series completes its 16th year on WRC-TV with a grand finale match between Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Walt Whitman and Northwestern high schools. From a whole generation of Washingtonians that has grown up since the first competition, these players deserve an appreciative cheer for their intellectual prowess.