For eight months now, the year 2020 has felt like a funhouse mirror.
The possibility that Canton City Schools in Ohio is considering lowering GPAs for athletic eligibility appears to be in keeping with this trend.
According to Canton Repository education reporter Kelli Weir’s recent report, Canton, Ohio, has one of Stark County’s highest requirements for athletics, at 2.0, which is a low C. If accepted, the floor would be lowered to 1.5, which is the academic equivalent of saying “present” during homeroom.
Proponents of the change say it’s a means by which marginally committed students will stay in school.
If that’s the case, the fault is ours for not making education more relevant.
No one thinks twice about a coach who demands that athletes give all they have on the field, but we’re not supposed to demand the same measure of hard work and sacrifice from those same students in the classroom?
If anything, Canton should be boasting about and marketing its standard for athletes, not shrinking from it.
It took LeBron James 17 years to land on the cover of a Wheaties box — which is a whole other column. Unlike LeBron, the closest most of us will ever get to the cover of a Wheaties box is at the grocery store. What’s getting less attention is the fact that he’ll be accompanied by students from his I Promise public charter school in Akron.
The message is clear: Education is the thing, and James’ athletic gifts are making it possible for kids who otherwise would have a steeper hill to climb.
We love to tell kids that sports aren’t just about winning; that it’s also about teachable moments. But that isn’t the message lowering GPAs conveys. Yes, poverty absolutely makes it more difficult to attain academic achievement because of the instability and obstacles it produces, but kids are tougher than we often give them credit for.
Teenagers fought the Nazis. They survived Rwanda. They’re surviving in Syria and Yemen.
In the aftermath of Sept. 11, Canton teenagers joined the military, some losing their lives in service to their country.
A teenager killed Goliath.
Most teens don’t need to be accommodated, but rather they need to believe that we have faith in their ability to achieve.
The Canton City School District is not just competing with kids from neighboring cities, but with young adults from Japan, India and China, where a suggestion to lower the GPA for sports would be laughed out of the room.
Though we know that most athletes will continue to do their best because their parents will insist on it, we also know that such a change would only be setting up others for sure failure. We produce elite athletes like Hershey makes Kisses, but we also have turned out too many athletes who were propped up simply because of their talent, and as soon as they were no longer of use, the world moved on.
We also need to be honest with some kids — and their parents — that most have a better chance of getting hit by lightning than making it to the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball, but there is a very real possibility they will become parents and will need an education and marketable skills to provide for their families.
Instead, athletics is a way to acquire a chance at higher education, but it’s an opportunity that will vanish like smoke if an athlete is not equipped to do the classwork.
At some point, there’s a reckoning even for the extremely gifted jocks who lack education.
The purpose of sports is to learn how to overcome the odds and opposition, isn’t it?