Washington area high school sports teams will be playing for more than just athletic banners and trophies this school year. They also will be scrapping for $40,000 in scholarship money as part of the Sallie Mae Cup competition announced yesterday at Lake Braddock High School.
More than 200 schools in the metropolitan area, both public and private, are automatically eligible to compete for the scholarship money, awarded by the Reston-based student loan company to the schools whose athletes post the highest combination of grade point average and winning percentage.
The won-lost record of the school's top eight varsity teams counts 40 percent toward the tabulation. The cumulative grade-point average of all varsity athletes counts 60 percent. Sallie Mae will run ads periodically in The Washington Post that list standings.
Program organizers, and Women's World Cup championship team member Mia Hamm, a Sallie Mae Cup spokeswoman who was on hand yesterday at alma mater Lake Braddock, say the goal is for high school students to be as committed to their teams academically as they are athletically.
"Because we're rewarding teams, not only do they have to have a good won-loss record, they have to work together as a team to get their grade-point average up," said Paul Carey, Sallie Mae executive vice president. "I hope there will be pressure on students who may not study that hard to study a little harder."
Hamm, who graduated from Lake Braddock in 1989 and earned a political science degree from the University of North Carolina, believes this program can encourage athletes to be good students.
"I hope it challenges the students and helps them understand the value of education," she said. "Everyone loves a winner, but when that time has come and gone, what do you have to fall back on?. . . . If you make the most of it, [education] is something that no one can take away from you."
The top school in the Washington area will receive $25,000 in scholarship funding to award to students at its discretion. Three runner-up schools will receive $5,000 apiece. Students in Kansas City and Philadelphia also will be vying for $40,000 in scholarships in their cities.
Word of the Sallie Mae Cup is just reaching area schools, but so far it has drawn a positive response.
"I think any time you hold the carrot out there, you're going to have some who are going to bite from it," Gar-Field High School Principal Roger Dallek said. "At least the smart ones will."
Dallek compared the team aspect of the Sallie Mae Cup to a group project in school, in which every student in the group earns the same grade.
"All the kids have to pull their weight," Dallek said.
Hamm returned to her alma mater yesterday to find a "Welcome Home Mia" greeting on the sign in front of the school and a standing ovation inside from the senior class of about 600 students.
She told them "there is no shortcut to a good education" and encouraged them to make the most of their college experience. But the mere mention of the word "party" drew sophomoric guffaws from some of the boys in the crowd.
"There are probably some guys like you still in school here [from] when I was here," joked Hamm, who kicked off her dress shoes to take part in a goal-scoring competition with several students.
Hamm, the all-time leading scorer in international soccer competition, said at a news conference afterward that she is a good example of someone whose academic performance was enhanced by athletics. She attended Lake Braddock for a year-and-a-half after moving to Burke from Texas. "I wasn't the best in the classroom--I wasn't the worst--but I had a talent as well, and through soccer I was able to put myself through school," she said. "Soccer was my way into the door, and once I got in, I realized what an incredible opportunity I was given."
Sally Bawcombe, an 11th-grade English teacher at Lake Braddock, thought she had a pretty incredible opportunity yesterday herself--the opportunity to meet Hamm. A colleague agreed to cover her classes so Bawcombe--decked out in a Hamm jersey--could attend the assembly.
"I didn't have the chance to play soccer in high school or college because I wasn't part of Title IX," said Bawcombe, 53, who took up the sport at 33 and plays in the Fairfax Women's Soccer Association. "It's a really great day for women in athletics. She's the best. It's truly an honor to have her here."
Senior soccer player Christy Metzker was one of the students who competed against Hamm in the goal-scoring competition. She knocked in a few, but the shot that drew the loudest response was the one that smacked one of the event organizers in the backside.
"After I hit that guy in the butt, it made me nervous," Metzker said. "But now I can say I shot with Mia."