EDPS board re-tackles sports eligibility issue

By: April Lehmbeck | Online Only | Published March 4, 2011

The East Detroit Public Schools board is ready to go back to the drawing board on academic eligibility for student-athletes after they nixed the previous policy last fall during football season.

The issue at the time was that students did not always know they were ineligible to play until the practice season was under way because the report card system wasn’t capable of calculating the grade point average that was used to determine eligibility. High school officials had to compute those by hand and that took time, officials said.

The board decided to revert from using a 2.0 GPA to the Michigan High School Athletic Association standard, which meant athletes would only need to pass four classes. They had promised to revisit the issue and they are ready to move forward with that promise by setting up a committee.

“It’s a privilege to play athletics,” Board Trustee Matt Vroman said. “It’s not mandatory. You’re there to learn, not play.”

Others on the board agreed.

“If they want to play bad enough, they’re going to have to hit the books,” Board Treasurer Craig Brozowski said. “I think you should make these kids Renaissance men. You’re not just an athlete, you’re a scholar.”

The board discussed the issue during its March 3 meeting after Vroman gave a presentation on changing the policy back to a stricter standard.

He believes new technology the school has might make it possible to get those cumulative GPAs listed on report cards, which would take the confusion out of the 2.0 policy.

Vroman argued that the MHSAA standards are too low and the district should ensure students are performing in the classroom before on the playing field.

He wasn’t alone in this belief. Last fall when the board changed the policy back to MHSAA standards due to pressure from athletes, parents and coaches, a couple of board members believe the district lost some credibility.

Vroman had some strong feelings about how the new policy should move forward — like sticking to a cumulative GPA and not using progress reports to determine re-eligibility.

“This is not a cliff that comes up … it’s on the horizon. It’s coming. The student knows they can reach out,” Vroman said.

He also contends there should be consequences for those in the district who do not follow the policy or try to get around it even to help keep an athlete on the field.

“Everyone needs to support this drive to increase the emphasis on academic performance,” Vroman said. “Just being good at sports isn’t the reason for coming to school.”

There were some other concerns brought up during the meeting.

“The policy we had was well intended and had some bumps and bruises,” East Detroit Federation of Teachers President Lincoln Stocks said of the previous policy.

He asked that the district not institute a sweeping policy that could prevent a student from taking the field for more than a year, but to allow coaches to work on programs to get under-achieving students back on track academically.

Stocks said athletics give students an opportunity to interact with adults who care about them and can help them.

Board Trustee Jon Gruenberg had an idea of his own — using MHSAA to determine overall eligibility, but also incorporating the 2.0 GPA. Students who do not meet the 2.0 GPA will need to commit to mandatory study tables, which could help the students improve, he said.

Although there was a concern raised that the students could attend the study sessions and just put in their time, many on the board liked the idea of getting the students in a program to improve those grades.

“I agree we need to do something,” Gruenberg said.

Athletic Director Chris Schneider recommended setting up a committee so they can get input from parents and athletes as well.

“I also think that trying to implement this in 2011-2012 is way too fast,” she said.

The board agreed to go with a committee made up of three board members, parents, students, coaches, an administrator and teachers.

Board Vice President Craig Wodecki asked that it be put on the fast track, so the board requested that a recommendation come back by June 1.