Beginning next Monday, high school athletes in Virginia must pass five classes each grade period to be eligible to compete.

The Virginia High School League last spring decided to institute the rule, known as Pass Five, but delayed implementation until this semester so students could schedule classes accordingly. Although many students take five or six classes, some in work study programs take four classes.

Virginia's previous eligibility rules required students to pass four subjects.

"We've been working on this since 1984 and we needed time to install the rules and give people time to adjust to what was coming," said Claudia Dodson, VHSL programs supervisor. "We knew some kids took only four classes and could have been A students. It would have been unfair to declare them automatically ineligible because they couldn't pass five subjects. Now the students know they must take at least five classes and they must pass all five, even if with Ds. We don't exactly support getting all Ds but it is a step up.

"In previous years, a youngster could get four Ds and one F and be eligible. Some local boards of education have adopted higher standards but we feel this Pass Five is fair. If the Board of Education supports all Ds for graduation, then why should athletes be asked to get higher marks? If all Ds makes you eligible for graduation, it should make you eligible for athletic participation."

Students must achieve a 2.0 average (on a 4.0 scale) to be eligible to compete in athletics in the District of Columbia and Prince George's County. In Montgomery County, students are ineligible if they fail more than one subject.

Reaction was mixed.

W.T. Woodson basketball coach Red Jenkins, who hasn't lost a player to academic ineligibility since 1962, said he can't argue with the rule.

"We are one of the highest rated academic schools in Fairfax and the Pass Five to play rule won't hurt us at all," Jenkins said. "The kids here go to class and most of them have pretty high academic standards."

However, Wakefield basketball coach Bobby Veldran isn't happy about the new standards.

"I don't like it," Veldran said. "There are some kids who are less than average kids. Of course, kids should be as good students as they can be and I don't think I will lose any this semester. But these new rules take some adjusting to. Kids would work hard just to pass four subjects, now they have to pass five."

Wakefield sophomore Travis Spencer said passing five subjects will not be a problem for him.

"For some guys, it will be a hardship passing five classes," said Spencer, a starter on the basketball team. "Some just try to get by. That will be harder now. I take five classes and I know I have to pass five but I plan to do better than five Ds."

West Potomac basketball coach Bill Engels said a few players will be hurt by the rule initially, but in the long run it will help.

"Any new rule affects people in the beginning," he said. "The marginal students will struggle and what do you do with them? Throw them in the streets? The incoming ninth graders know what is expected of them. This also pressures the coaching staffs to concentrate more on helping the kids work on their study habits."

Engels said he may lose one player, but prepared for his loss by working others at that position.

The new rule adds to the concerns of the coaches at T.C. Williams, the only high school in the City of Alexandria.

"The Board of Education raised our eligibility rule last year and now we will have another one to deal with," basketball coach Mike Hynson said. "By Alexandria city rules, a student must achieve at least a 1.55 average each quarter. If a student fails to get a 1.55 for two consecutive quarters (a semester), he is ineligible for one quarter. He must get over the 1.55 the next quarter to be eligible.

"Now with the new Pass Five to play rule, we may lose a few more students. Kids fail for certain reasons, like absences. Most of our kids take six classes and if they messed up a couple, they could get the {1.55} average. Now if they mess up one, they better pass the other five."