It would have been easy for Kia Van Laare to crack under the pressure.
That day she had a Physics mid-term that would go a long way in determining her final grade. And, being in Grade 12, the test had a bearing on her future, and her goal to get the marks needed to attend Simon Fraser University.
But it wasn’t just the mid-term. That night her senior girls’ basketball team at New Westminster secondary was playing Elgin Park from White Rock in a game that would affect her team’s chances of getting into the provincial championship. Van Laare, as a starting guard, needed to have one of her best games of the season.
No pressure, huh?
Van Laare, now a guard in her first year with the SFU women’s basketball team, credits her athletic background with helping her through that day last March.
“It was one of the most stressful days in Grade 12 for me,” she said. “I knew I had to stay calm and stay focused.”
In the end, she aced the exam, and on the court her team defeated Elgin Park in overtime.
Not all high school athletes succeed in the classroom and the sports arena like Van Laare. Many with the potential to play at the university level fall short because they don’t have the grades.
“It’s always a challenge and often it’s difficult,” said Van Laare’s SFU coach Bruce Langford. “Of all the players we tried to recruit last year, half couldn’t meet the academic standards.”
The question arises: Should high schools push student athletes in the classroom, just like they do on the courts and fields, by establishing academic standards for athletes?
Van Laare thinks so.
“It’s definitely a good idea. A certain level should be attained. It’s the academics that will get you through life, not the sports,” said Van Laare. “As an athlete, the principle of hard work on the court goes hand-in-hand with hard work in the classroom.”
Currently, there is no province-wide rule that guides high school athletics.
Five years ago, B.C. School Sports (BCSS), the organization that governs and establishes regulations for coaches, teachers and administrators in high school sports, considered the idea of academic eligibility for athletes.
Two options were considered. The first was the idea of requiring all athletes to have a minimum C+ grade point average to compete.
The second was based on effort; teachers determined if an athlete had worked to their full capabilities in the classroom. If not they wouldn’t play.
In the end, both options were rejected.
“At the end of the day our main goal is to get kids active so it helps them achieve academically,” said Sue Keenan, executive director for BCSS. “We didn’t want to make a broad-sweeping regulation for the entire province because you can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach for everyone.”
Keenan is glad the motion was voted down—she felt neither option would have been fair to students.
“We have to keep in mind they’re going through incredible changes and we put so much pressure on them already. It would have been more destructive than positive,” she said.
While BCSS hasn’t set down any academic standards for athletes, many school districts, individual schools or teams have their own.
At Terry Fox secondary in Port Coquitlam, if you want to play on a basketball team, you must complete your class assignments, attend classes and give your best effort. Otherwise you don’t play.
For students not performing in the classroom, coaches often set up desks in the gym while the team practices. That way players can work on classroom assignments while being part of the team.
Farhan Lalji, head coach of the New Westminster secondary school football team, has his own system.
Every two weeks players must have an “academic approach” report filled out by their teachers showing they attended class, handed in all their assignments and showed a positive attitude.
Coaches meet with students who get negative reports to help them. But if there’s no improvement, they likely won’t dress for the next game. This season, only one student had to sit out, Lalji said.
Lalji says it’s the best approach since not all kids are at the same academic level. The most important thing is that they come to school, he said.
“We’re trying to use sports as leverage to get these kids through school. It’s more process driven than academic driven but it gives everyone a chance to succeed.”