It hardly seems harsh that high school athletes be required to more than autograph what they carry into the end zone. Or jam into a hoop, kick into a net, smack over a fence or push past a goalie with a stick.

The last reference makes certain this will be an equal-opportunity column, for even though two members of the field hockey team carried me through Mrs. Brabson's Latin class, I don't believe guys have a patent on being lazy.

Anyway, hooray for the Alexandria School Board for voting this week to tighten the eligibility requirements for the city's high school athletes. And shame on any other jurisdiction that either hasn't already done so, or won't.

Beginning next fall, Alexandria athletes must earn a C average either the semester before the playing season or during it to continue participation in league sports.

All along, I'd thought most school districts in the country had some sort of decent eligibility standards for athletes. No wonder lots of caring college coaches growl at the lack of preparation their recruits have.

So embarrassing and frustrating are the academic performances of many alleged scholar-athletes that a movement within the NCAA to stiffen admissions requirements has gained wide support.

If Proposition 48 passes -- and I believe it should and will -- high schools will have to do a better job of making their athletes ready for college.

Alexandria-like actions are a fine step in that direction, for except for million-to-one shots named Moses Malone and Darryl Dawkins, the path to professional glory winds through college.

There may be exceptions to the C rule. One would be for players working to the very limit of their academic potential who still cannot average a C. This seems reasonable, although the possibilities for abuse are close to limitless.

Memory notes that certain Texas high school authorities have used money allocated for football health care and trainers to hire more assistant coaches.

In schools where winning means serenity and losing a months-long migraine, a principal might equate a halfback's yardage with his enthusiasm for algebra.

L = U R Gone is how bright boosters might put it to a normally principled principal. High school Fridays are about as important as social matters get in many small towns.

Not that every football team must also excel on "It's Academic." That sort of thinking would require flute players in the band to do 50 push-ups now and then and biology brains to dissect two-deep zones along with frogs.

It is no breathless bulletin that superior high school athletes with lousy grades still are welcomed at many colleges.

"I got players here who don't know the answer to hello," a Southeastern Conference basketball coach said in an unguarded moment last year. He laughed, and added:

"We give our prospects the rock test."

The what?

"You know," the coach said, holding one hand palms open and the other closed, "which hand has the rock?"

And so on.

For many of us in some ways, it's common to do the absolute minimal amount of work necessary to get by. If a single will do, why get dirty trying to stretch it?

Knowing that it was necessary to make Cs in Soviet history and calculus to write about intramural swimming for the paper in college, I made Cs in Soviet history and calculus.

Same with many athletes in high school. They are bright enough to know that scholastic survival is all the fittest really need; that's all they shoot for.

There were 152 Alexandria-area athletes who ended last semester with less than a C average; betcha most of them would have done better if they had realized a C was necessary to stay eligible.

This notion is buttressed by two examples, the first being a recent study that showed freshmen athletes in college fared as well as equal-quality freshmen nonathletes.

For years, many of us have been preaching that freshmen should not be able to play big-time football and basketball. Too time-consuming; probably would ruin any chance for a sturdy academic foundation.

Wrong.

The ones who cared about their studies did well. They budgeted their time wisely, very likely were inspired after being pushed toward the library by such as Lefty Driesell and made the transition.

The study by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers said the athletes had significantly lower grades in high school than typical nonathletes.

Forced to work harder, the former underachievers did; forced to be average or above in the classroom, they were.

I still feel varsity-level competition for freshmen is too much pressure, academically and athletically; I won't yell quite so loudly.

Also, the NCAA completed a study this year of 16,000 athletes that showed they graduated at the same rate as nonathletes.

Which means that a little discipline can go a long way. Besides, it's something like 5,000-to-1 in football and 17,000-to-1 in basketball that a high school athlete makes the pros.

Good for Alexandria. Because football still is the significant sport at most high schools, let's hope the masses of educators insist: passing is fine on the field, but not nearly enough to get there.