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W.Va. Coaches, Athletes Pressured by New 'C-Average' Rule

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Charleston, WVa--South Charleston High School's basketball coach, Bill Walton, is already feeling the pressure of West Virginia's new statewide policy requiring students participating in extracurricular activities to maintain at least a "C" average.

"I know a young man here who stands a good chance of being offered a $40,000 scholarship at a college in the state," he said. "But he's afraid that with this policy he's not going to make the basketball team. So he's dropped chemistry.

"He's a pretty good student, but he feels he can't afford to take chemistry right now. He'll probably have to pick it up in college."

Mr. Walton, whose team lost the state championship by one point last year, said the boy's dilemma typifies the problems surrounding the new policy, which is due to take effect on Jan. 1 in all West Virginia schools.

A number of school districts, including Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh, have adopted similar measures, but the West Virginia regulation, passed unanimously last month by the state board of education, marks the first attempt by any state to enforce such standards for all public-high-school students.

The board's action means that, beginning at the end of the fall semester, any student who has less than a C average will be ineligible to participate in major extracurricular activities.

Roy Truby, West Virginia's superintendent of schools, said there is some uncertainty as to precisely which activities the policy will cover. But athletic teams, cheerleaders, and student government will probably be included, as will most other student activities that are not graded and do not provide credit toward graduation.

Mr. Truby said the board was looking at "activities that are time-consuming and take students away from classwork."

Reaction to the policy has been muted so far. When the board announced it was considering it, some coaches and principals warned that it could disqualify as many as half of the students on some athletic teams.

Principals on the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, who previously set standards for participation in athletics, let it be known that they were displeased, but have since been mildly supportive.

Part of the reason for that reaction was that in July the largest county in the state, Kanawha, beat the state board to the punch by passing an even stricter policy that required a C average and prohibited students who failed a single course from participating in extracurricular activities.

Mr. Walton, who coaches in Kanawha County, said more of his colleagues are worried about the no-fail rule than about the C-average requirement.

Mr. Truby agreed. "I think the no-F rule is a little too restrictive. I've seen cases where, for instance, a kid had problems with foreign languages, or was counseled into the wrong math class. I don't think it's fair to penalize those people."

The superintendent said the impetus for the policy stemmed from the board's concern over activities commission's lax standards. Last year, he said, the board complained that the existing policy required students to pass only three courses to be eligible for extracurricular activities.

As Mr. Truby pointed out: "That means someone could have three Ds and four Fs." The activities commission agreed to raise the standard to require that four courses be passed, but the state board was not satisfied and initiated its own reform.

Mr. Truby said he studied policies in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and elsewhere before devising his own, which, he said, is less restrictive than most.

West Virginia, with 55 county school systems that are overseen by a statewide administration, is in a better position than many states to enforce statewide standards, he said.

He disagreed with those who complained that the policy would hurt those students who are unable to maintain a C average, but who enjoy high-school athletics.

"I can't believe that any kid who works his heart out can't get a C average," he said. "We discussed this at the state board, and we determined that academics should come first. Extracurricular activities are important, but we see them as a privilege."

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