Editor's note: We have updated this story and the accompanying interactive graphic with corrected numbers based on recalculations of the by-sport and district average team GPAs.
Beaufort County School District student-athletes have responded so well to tougher academic standards that began during the 2012-13 school year that administrators might try to raise eligibility requirements again.
Superintendent Jeffrey Moss said Thursday the district wants to continue to monitor the effectiveness of current requirements before making a decision, but if progress continues, he might approach the school board about raising the bar again in the future.
Board chair Bill Evans could not be reached Thursday, but said at a past board workshop that he would be open to a higher minimum requirement and believes students would rise to the expectations.
And Moss said he thinks he'll have support from the student-athletes who would have to meet those standards -- he said many high school students have told him they think the minimum GPA is too low.
"I can foresee a day in the near future where we're having conversations about gradually increasing the minimum requirement, maybe to even be above" the NCAA's initial-eligibility requirement of a 2.3 GPA in core classes, Moss said. "I think our responsibility is to prepare them for life after high school, and I think we are doing that."
The school board set stricter requirements in 2011 for student-athletes to maintain their academic eligibility to participate in sports.
The old rules mirrored the academic standards set by the S.C. High School League -- which required students to pass four or five classes, depending on the semester, to be eligible to participate. The league does not have a GPA requirement nor does it specify that core subjects must be passed.
This year, 95 percent of middle school student-athletes and 94 percent of high school student athletes met the 2.0 GPA requirement to play fall and winter sports. Those percentages are each up one percentage point from the same seasons last year.
"I honestly believe that the district is moving in the right direction in having an accountable system for student athletic participation," chief student services officer Gregory McCord said. Only one other state district -- Richland County School District 1 -- has a similar policy, he said.
About 5.5 percent of the 2,330 middle and high school athletes this fall and winter -- or 128 athletes -- failed to meet the academic requirement. The average team GPA is 3.35 in the district's middle schools and 3.56 in the high schools.
Two years ago, before the policy was adopted, about 13 percent of athletes had GPAs below 2.0, but many were still eligible to play.
Now , academic interventions and tutorials are put in place to support those student-athletes below the 2.0 threshold to help them regain eligibility. Bluffton High School athletics director Dave Adams said it is a team effort between coaches and teachers to get those students back on track.
"Kids are aware (of this requirement) and a little more concentrated on making sure they have that 2.0 if they want to participate," Adams said. "Any time we set the bar higher academically it is a good thing to do -- we are expecting more out of our athletes."
Adams said he thinks the GPA requirement should be carefully considered before being raised again, so that borderline students aren't discouraged from participating.
He also thinks the school district should consider expanding the requirement to all extracurricular activities, not just sports.
Moss said he would support expanding the minimum requirement to other activities and that some discussions of that possibility have taken place among district officials.
"I believe we need to be consistent in what our expectation is for students participating in extracurricular activities," Moss said. "It ensures that if you are participating in an extracurricular activity, then your classwork comes first."
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