Academic eligibility rules in New Jersey exist to clarify the definition of the “student athlete.” For some students, the rules are easy to follow and the requirements are not hard to fulfill. For others, the rules change their high school athletics career.
The state of New Jersey requires that students participating in fall and winter sports have completed 25 percent of the total credits needed to graduate in the previous year. If a student is participating in a spring sport, then he or she must have completed 12.5 percent of the credits needed to graduate in the first semester. At Princeton High School, 25 percent translates to 30 credits; 12.5 percent is 15. Thirty credits would be the equivalent of six full-year classes.
Mira Shane ’15, a three-year varsity lacrosse and basketball player, is among the students that do not find this requirement hard to meet. “The problem for me is that I have to make time for the practices and games because the more credentials that you take, the less time that you have for your sport,” she said.
PHS guidance counselor Kristina Donovan believes that it is possible and not difficult for students to meet these requirements. “With good planning and working with your guidance counselor, I think that [at] all levels you can meet eligibility [requirements],” she said. “It’s really about that communication piece.”
Shane finds these rules beneficial for students. “I think it’s important to emphasize the title of a student athlete, because you’re not just a student, and you’re not just an athlete,” she said. “You have to be more of a student than you are an athlete.”
Donovan agrees with Shane’s definition of a student athlete. “It’s interesting, just the term alone: student comes first,” she said. “Being a student athlete, you are a member of the community as a student first … An athlete is probably how you identify yourself, and that can be anything from being a team captain to an all-star lacrosse player.”
Carlos Salazar, gym teacher and assistant boys soccer coach, has been at PHS for 24 years and has worked with a variety of student athletes. He has seen students fail to meet the academic requirements asked of them and has seen those students feel the disappointment of being denied athletic eligibility.
“We have some kids that regret [not meeting guidelines] … It’s pretty hard [on the students] to fail, but in the long run it helps those students because then they bounce back and are able to do better,” said Salazar. In his eyes, the eligibility rules are used to teach students a lesson, to keep them on track with their academics, and to provide them with an incentive to keep their grades up.
Salazar also thinks that the rules help student athletes excel in their college athletic careers. “Certainly … we have seen students go to Ivy League schools [and other] Division I schools, and do really well,” he said. “I have known student athletes from other high schools [who] struggle [in college] because the academic standards of other schools don’t prepare them for the rigors of going to a Division I school … while maintaining [participation in] athletics.”
Even students who have athletic abilities capable of taking them further in life than their academic abilities must remember that sometimes it is just as important to hit the books as it is to hit the gym.