Published Monday, November 18, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 5:31 pm
World-Herald editorial: High eligibility standard raises game

Kids in sports and other school activities want to compete.

Tell a young lineman he must lift weights to play, and watch him come back stronger. Dangle a solo in front of a violinist if her technique improves, and weeks later, listen.

That’s why Omaha school board president Justin Wayne is on the right track with his idea to require better grades from students in Omaha Public Schools who want to participate in sports and extracurricular activities sanctioned by the Nebraska School Activities Association.

There’s nothing to fear from focusing on classroom achievement as a necessary step toward getting to the playing field, floor or stage. That emphasizes the student in student-athlete.

Some students might not care that they would finish high school with sharper, more marketable skills in reading, writing, math and science. But they most certainly would.

Several proposals are before the OPS board tonight. One would require that the quarterback and the trombone player pass all classes and earn at least a 2.0 grade-point average in the previous term to participate in a sport or activity. It would implement the new requirements in stages.

That and other proposals under consideration by OPS would ask more of students than does the NSAA, which requires only that sophomores and up earn at least a D grade in four classes the semester before they participate.

Those statewide standards should be re-examined, too. There’s no excuse for Nebraska to have some of the region’s lowest minimum participation standards. NSAA officials should explore pass-to-play models in other states and develop their own.

It makes sense for school districts that care deeply about the academic progress of athletes and debaters to require more in the classroom.

The proposals being considered by the Omaha school board wisely would offer students access to academic tutoring. Teachers and administrators would intervene more often with grade checks and steer students toward help. A similar pilot program for 129 athletes at North High School helped them raise their grades.

For students whose grades fall short, there would be specific, achievable routes back to full participation. That would help keep at-risk students engaged in their schools.

OPS board members have heard from a vocal few about how this policy might lead some students to give up on school. They also hear that other students might take easier courses.

These are legitimate concerns, but they have proven largely unfounded in Texas and Florida — two states with years of data on their own no pass-no play rules. The Austin (Texas) Independent School District studied the impact of Texas’ no pass-no play rule and found that athletes passed more courses than before and that the number of difficult courses taken even rose slightly.

OPS’ Wayne is quick to point out that the impetus for improving student performance falls first on parents, who in some cases need to be more involved. But coaches, too, can put more emphasis on academics. And implementing tougher standards would need a commitment at the grade school and middle school levels to help make certain students are ready for high school work.

An OPS report on student athletes in 2011-12 showed that about 15 percent of OPS athletes earned lower than a 2.0 GPA. As with the wider achievement gap OPS faces, students from backgrounds of poverty more often fell short.

But local evidence also shows that higher expectations can help, so long as support systems are in place.

Burke High School independently requires more from its athletes. Grades are checked weekly. Athletes are allowed one failing grade in a weekly spot check. At two, they have a week to correct things or they sit the bench. Students on notice receive academic tutoring outside of school.

Burke athletic director Kyle Rohrig has kept data since 2010 and said more students are rising to the challenge now. “Parents, teachers, everybody — if they’re on board with this, the students will meet those expectations,” he says.

One can disagree with Wayne’s 2.0 GPA target. Options before the Omaha school board include starting with a no pass-no play rule without the GPA requirement. The board could decide later to ratchet up its expectations.

Regardless, it is laudable to see the OPS board weighing how best to encourage academic achievement. That is the board’s most important charge.

Read more related stories
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
Nebrasks health officials to advertise jobs via drive-thru
Coral Walker named Omaha police officer of the year
A recap of what got done — and what didn't — in the 2014 legislative session
'The war is not over,' Chambers says, but legislative session about is
Sarah Palin, Mike Lee coming to Nebraska for Ben Sasse rally
Prescription drug drop-off is April 26
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Rather than doing $250K in repairs, owner who lives in lot behind 94-year-old house in Dundee razes it
PAC funded by Senate candidate Ben Sasse's great-uncle releases Shane Osborn attack ad
Teen killed at Gallagher Park was shot in head as he sat in SUV, friend who was wounded says
NB 30th Street lane closed
State Patrol, Omaha police conduct vehicle inspections
After all his bluster and bravado in the courtroom, Nikko Jenkins found guilty of 4 murders
Bernie Kanger formally promoted to Omaha fire chief
U.S. House incumbents have deeper pockets than their challengers
Nancy's Almanac, April 17, 2014: Trees save money
Ex-Iowan behind landmark free speech case recounts story in Bellevue
Gov. Heineman signs water bill; sponsor calls it 'landmark legislation'
New UNO center strengthens ties between campus, community
Senate candidate Shane Osborn to include anti-tax activist Norquist in telephone town hall
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Attorney: Man accused of trying to open plane's door needs psychiatric evaluation
49-year-old sentenced to 40-50 years for attempted sex assault of child
< >
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Kelly: Creighton's McDermotts put good faces on an Omaha tradition
A comical roast Wednesday night in Omaha brought fans of Creighton basketball laughter by the bucketful. This time it was McJokes, not McBuckets, that entertained the Bluejay crowd.
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Jessica Lutton Bedient was killed by a drunken driver at age 26 in 2010. Thursday, the widowed husband and other family members will gather with others at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to dedicate a permanent memorial to Jessica.
Breaking Brad: How much would you pay for a corn dog?
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a new concession item: a $25 corn dog. For that kind of money, it should be stuffed with Bitcoin.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Dr. Welbes Natural Health Clinic
$129 for 2 LipoLaser Sessions with Additional Complimentary Services ($605 value)
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »