Benching the jocks

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Iowa State Board of Education will meet this week to consider putting some teeth into its newfound pass-or-don't-play athletic policy.

The current proposal is to mandate that any athlete who fails a class must sit out of a sport for at least 20 days. It could go into effect as early as next school year.

At first dribble, it sounds pretty good.

No one likes whispered stories that supposedly have top jocks coasting through school just to play sports, getting a free pass on academics, and ending up dropping out of college with their eligibility shot and an elementary-school reading level.

Get tough! Pass or ride the bench! Tough! Sounds good.

But wait. Might we cause more troubles than we solve?

Not every student is good in every class. Not every teacher is, either. What if you have a student who is all A's and B's, but isn't making it in trig 401? Is sitting them out of sports going to fix that?

A student who misses a month's games may make teammates suffer. And the student may never get their position back even if they work hard to get grades up.

High school is short, and for most, their last chance to take part in team sports. A handful of games lost, maybe a season, can never be given back.

And what if some student athletes just quit taking the tougher elective classes, so they won't risk a low grade? That's how you get to college without the tools to succeed. In my days at Iowa State, Hotel/Motel Management was the major where you hid those jocks. Over at Iowa, it was called Leisure Studies.

Do we really think we won't be inviting abuses - pressuring teachers to offer soft grading to stay competitive in sports? Jock classes? Having tutors do homework? You might look at some of the major college sports powers to answer that.

Here's an interesting thought - will benching a kid suddenly make him smarter? I wonder.

For some, sports are their motivation. If they are taken away, they may fall through the cracks and drop out.

Will we really be helping a kid if we bench him his senior year, and he loses the chance at a scholarship that would be his only way of going to college?

The idea is well-minded. Fail and ride the bench. A higher standard, and carrot to perhaps work a little harder. But it may not be all that simple when you think a little deeper into it.

Something is needed, yes. There currently is no standard, schools can check athletes' grades as often or as infrequently as they want. The new proposal would require a check at least once a month - not a bad idea.

The question is what we should do once we check.

Benching them won't solve the problems. It's not that simple. If we are going to achieve anthing, we will need to determine why a student - jock or not - is struggling, and a system to help them catch up and be successful.

The system should not accept less of athletes any more than a young man or woman should be willing to expect that of themself. The bench isn't the place to fix your skills in English 101, the classroom is.

In a story on the proposal, I notice that the statewide newspaper quotes a Des Moines high school basketball coach, "... athletes will take courses that don't mean nothing..."

Oh my, we do have some work to do.


Following the fatality hit-and-run boat crash at Okoboji this summer, a proposal has been made to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to establish a 30 mile-per-hour night speed limit on the lake, which could potentially be spread to Storm Lake and other water bodies.

On a dark, busy lake, going faster than 30 is asking for trouble. In fact, 20-25 in the dark is fast enough. It's kind of a shame that it would take a law to do it, but we could back such a law.

One problem though. In the case under discussion, still working its way through the slow maze of the court system, a man is accused of boating recklessly enough to overtake another boat in the middle of the night, fast enough to fly nearly entirely over the boat it hit, and then taking off with no regard to the man he had killed or the woman he injured. And oh, by the way, he is accused of being drunk at the time.

The problem with laws is that they don't protect against those who break them, and those who just plain behave stupidly.

Maybe a speed limit will be a tool to get them off the water. In the meantime, the best protection is to know your boat, be aware of the dangers of boating at night, take it slow, and keep a friendly eye out for your neighbors on the water. Common sense can sometimes do what even a law can't. Too bad we can't legislate that in.


Looking for new digs? Trust me on this - stay away from Silver Creek Road, 1.4 miles northeast of Prairieburg. A new study shows that it is the most tornado-struck spot in Iowa, with 70 funnels touching down or roaring through in the past 55 years. A weather data firm estimates that if you stand anywhere within 20 miles of this spot, you have a .129% chance every year of getting bedeviled by a twister.

Still, it beats Giltner, Nebraska. In 55 years, 122 tornados have paid visits there, the likeliest place in the U.S. to get hit. Bet you could get a great deal on a split-level.