By Curt Yeomans
Georgia Tech running back Tashard Choice can work a crowd into a frenzy.
As the former Lovejoy High School player appeared on the basketball court at Kendrick Middle School on Friday morning, the students began screaming at a fever pitch.
Choice began waving his arms up and down in the air in an attempt to get the students to make even more noise.
The pep rally was put on by school officials as part of a month-long program designed to get students excited about the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, which begin on April 16.
Everyone knew Choice was at the school to talk about academics, but the students were just excited to have a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I-A football player in their house.
"I'm really glad to see you are all excited about academics because it's the key to finding success in life," Choice told the students.
The Georgia Tech running back's visit to the school is part of Kendrick's "March Madness," in which administrators have several events lined up from March 19 to April 13, culminating in a spirit pep rally on the Friday before the CRCTs begin.
"What students learn in the classroom is 50 percent of what it takes to do well on the CRCT," Kendrick Assistant Principal Lonnie White said. "The other half of it is whether they are going to be bored or uninterested when they come in to take the tests, or are they going to be excited and pumped up about it.
Choice told the students that it was "cool to be different" and giving one's best effort on tests is important, particularly in college, because a lack of effort means a student won't last long in an academic environment. He also pointed out that failing academically can lead an athlete to become ineligible to play.
"I liked it when he said that you can be yourself without feeling pressured to change," eighth-grader Jazmin Armstrong said. "That's something middle school students face on a daily basis."
Added fellow eighth-grader Derrick Logan II, "I liked hearing him speak about getting your priorities straight. A lot goes [on] at this time in our lives like getting ready to start high school, and it's important to have our priorities in order so we won't feel overwhelmed."
Choice, who is majoring in History, Technology and Society at Georgia Tech, is a 2003 graduate of Lovejoy High School. During the 2006 season, he led the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing yards (1,473).
He was also named to the ACC's Academic Honor Roll for the 2005-06 school year.
"Make sure you do all of your homework and then turn it in because if you do, you'll have no problem succeeding in school," Choice told the eighth-graders in a separate speech after the pep rally ended.
As he was leaving the school, Choice was already planning on coming back to Kendrick in 12 months to speak to the students about academics again.
"That's going to be a really good time for me to come back," Choice told White and assistant principal Steve Hughes. "I'll be getting ready for the [National Football League] draft so that will be a good example [about the importance of academics] to show these kids."