The familiar soft voice has been twanging over the radio all week.
"We in Texas don't tell our students it's okay to flunk one course," Gov. Mark White (D) admonishes listeners.
The advertisement featuring him is part of a $200,000 campaign that White said he hopes will halt a storm swirling around a new state law. It makes public school students ineligible to participate in athletics or other extracurricular activities for an entire six-week grading period if they receive a single failing grade on a report card.
White, who helped steer the so-called "no pass/no play" law through a special legislative session last year, tells listeners:
"We're going to put winners on the playing field. We're going to put winners in the classroom. And it's going to make Texas the big winner."
The first grading period since passage of the law has just ended, and an estimated one-third of the state's high school athletes have been disqualified for most of the spring sports season. White's statement on the sensitive issue has fueled criticism.
Many residents are beside themselves. Parents have filed lawsuits, a sense-of-the-Senate resolution has been adopted calling for grading periods to be reduced to one week and the House Public Education Committee today heard testimony on at least seven bills that would soften the penalty.
"This is having a devastating effect on some of our kids who may not be great with the books but are awfully good with their hands," said Sen. Chet Brooks (D) of Pasadena, a Houston suburb. "It may cost a kid a chance to get a [college] scholarship."
"We got a no-pass, no-play rule, but we don't have a no-pass, no-cruise-and-booze rule," said Eddie Joseph, vice president of the Texas High School Coaches Association, as he waited to testify.
"This doesn't get at the student who leaves school at 3, gets into his pickup, gets a can of snuff, a bottle of Lone Star [beer] and a girl on his arm and hangs out all day and night.
"It's discriminatory. Besides, six weeks is too long to be motivational. It's punitive," he said.
The man behind the controversial law is computer and electronics magnate H. Ross Perot, who last year headed a gubernatorial panel that recommended a $4.6 billion overhaul of the public education system. He fervently disagrees with critics.
"It's something we just had to do in this state," Perot said, noting that Texas students rank near the bottom on most national achievement tests. "We've got to learn it's more important to be a winner for life than to be a winner for a few hours on a Friday night."
Perot attributed the initial high rate of disqualifications to the fact that students did not take the rule seriously. Any retreat from enforcement now would send precisely the wrong message, he said.
"Look, we're not asking kids to get straight As; we're just asking them not to fail," he said. "You can train a mynah bird to pass in the Texas system.
"I feel bad for every kid that can't participate but, if we stick by our guns, the numbers will go down. The kids now know we're serious," Perot said.
Last week, White indicated that he might favor a three-week grading period but, since the radio advertising began, he has taken a no-retreat posture. Political observers say the governor, whose poll ratings have declined in recent months, is being blamed for pain caused by the reforms and is not being credited for the benefits.
Meanwhile, in Grand Prairie, school authorities ruled that a high school band that included many failing students could not travel to a competition in Colorado over spring break. A court overruled the decision, noting that members had paid nonrefundable tickets for the trip.
Another court overturned a school official's decision that 30 agriculture students with failing grades could not attend a county junior livestock show, ruling that the show was not a school event and therefore not an extracurricular activity.
Betting here in the state capital is that the rule will be softened before the fall, when it would affect the football season, which ranks extremely high on the average Texan's autumn agenda.
"You talk about a big stink. Wait till our football players can't play," said Jim Marcus, principal of Crane High School in west Texas.
The ultimate wisdom on the flap may have been offered years ago by Bobby Cremins, now basketball coach at Georgia Tech. During his playing days at the University of South Carolina, Cremins recalled, he had to show his coach a report card with four Fs and a D.
"What's the problem, son?" the coach inquired.
"Well, coach," said Cremins, "I guess I spent too much time on one subject."