No “A”, No Play

In the phrase ‘student-athlete’, student always comes first. The problem begins when school falls second to sports for both players and coaches. Coaches are beginning to keep a tighter leash on their star players in order to keep them eligible to play. This begs the question of whether or not coaches actually care about their players or if they simply are trying to protect their team’s chances of winning.

Athlete E.J. Floreal (‘13) has played basketball since he first learned to walk. When he arrived at Paly, coach Drew Slayton (no longer a Paly coach) was excited to have him on the squad. In his sophomore season, Floreal averaged 14.5 points per game to go along with his 8.7 rebounds per game. Floreal is worried that some coaches and players forget about how important education is when they are pressured to win.

“A lot of athletes get pressure from everyone: Coaches, friends, teachers, etc.,” Floreal said. “But sometimes if they don’t have the right person in their ear telling them what’s really important they get lost and the whole focus for them is winning and becoming great instead of thinking about grades and school.”

To win in sports, coaches need their players, especially their better ones, on the field. If the star players don’t make grades, than they cannot help the team win.

Coach Hansen has given grade checks for years. But with the change in expectations from the Palo Alto community after last year’s state titles, Hansen has had to make sure that bad grades don’t hold him or his team back from winning.

“Lets put it this way,” Hansen said. “winning is going to come with guys who come dedicated to take care of business on and off the field. Those guys, if you look over the years, are far more consistent and dependable on the field as well as off. Some need a little more urging and watching than other guys do.”

Hansen is also the athletic director for Paly, and ten years ago he hired a man named Tom Schmutz as a basketball coach. Schmutz has coached for three years as a varsity assistant, two years as head coach for the junior varsity team, and the last five years coaching the frosh/soph team at Paly.

Coach Schmutz likes to win just like any other coach, but he does not think that grade checks increase his chances of winning.

“I do not give grade checks to players,” Schmutz said. “I don’t think grade checks are necessary at a school like Paly.  Maybe at other schools, but because academics are so important to the majority of kids at Paly, grade checks don’t serve a great purpose.”

Floreal is the kind of player coaches nationwide are trying to make sure stay eligible. But the question is, are coaches giving these players grade checks to increase their chance of winning or because they truly care about the player/student?

“I think grade checks are a way for a coach to act like they’re interested when they truly care about winning,” Floreal said. “But, some of them might actually care and try to get you help so you pass your classes.”

Last year, Hansen hired a new head coach for the boy’s varsity basketball team named Adam Sax. In Sax’s first year as head coach, he led the boys’ to a solid 19-7 record only to lose by a score of 61-39 in the Central Coast Section semi-finals to Archbishop Mitty. Sax has surprised some of his players in his short one-year stint as head coach for the Vikings with his grade check policy.

“I’m not used to grade checks but I don’t mind them,” Floreal said. “Coach Sax gives them to us because he cares about us on the court but also academically.”

Floreal went on to say that he does also think there is another motivation for Sax to be giving his players grade checks.

“I think that he (Sax) wants to keep his job and he doesn’t want to get in trouble,” Floreal said. “If he wants that, his players are going to have to be eligible.”

Bret Pinsker (‘13) was another freshman who found his way onto a varsity team at Paly. Pinsker has played water polo since the fifth grade, where he quickly realized he had potential to be very good. Pinsker thinks grade checks can be both helpful and sometimes silly depending on the coach.

“Whether or not the coaches give grade checks for themselves or because they care depends on the coach,” Pinsker said. “If a bad coach does grade checks it’s probably because he wants to keep his job.  If a good coach does it it’s probably because he cares.”

Another new face to the Paly student body this year is David Drew (‘12). Drew played basketball at Oakland Tech High School before moving to Palo Alto. Drew says that they gave the players at Oakland Tech grade checks but the system was somewhat different.

“They made us do grade checks,” Drew said. “But, we didn’t really have to get a signed signature from our teachers. If there was a problem, our teacher and coach would work it out.”

Sports are a great way for kids to escape the pressures of high school, but when sports become their priority, students and coaches must find a new way to balance winning on and off the field.

“There isn’t a strong emphasis of school to the ‘superstars’,” Floreal said. “They think that all they have to do is play sports and do great in them and they’ll go somewhere… which rarely happens.”
Pinsker however does not agree with what Floreal says about superstars in high school sports.

“I don’t really think superstars are giving a ton of extra treatment,” Pinsker said. “Generally, superstars have to work very hard to get to where they are.”

Not every player is going to play in college, or even in professional sports. A league championship for a high school team means nothing when the kids who won it don’t have a strong education for their futures.

Sam Newell (‘14), a soccer player, recently missed an opportunity to play for her team because of grades.

“I didn’t make grades and it definitely was disappointing and a reality check,” Newell said. “You put all this time and effort into trying to make the team and in the end you do make the team, but the next thing you know they’re telling you that you can’t play until you get your grades up.”
Newell hates grade checks for holding her back from playing, but understands grades are more important than being successful in sports.

“I think grade checks are incredibly annoying,” Newell said. “But, they do keep players in check and their morals straight. Grades come first and playing a sport is a privilege.”

Newell does not hold anything against her coach from not letting her play. She thinks that it is simply the coaches’ responsibility to keep his/her players in line.

“I think that coaches do care about their players,” Newell said. “It would be crazy if coaches tried to cheat the grade system because it should be all about the players in the first place. The coaches should give the players their grade checks and try to help them anyway they can to raise their grades so the team can win.” i love dudes.