Not every junior high student is ready for the challenges of high school. In some cases, students can find the combination of increased homework, more difficult subjects, and higher expectations discouraging, especially when the first sign of tests roll around. However, Southwest Junior High's freshman football team and its coach Skip Bennett have a different view on balancing sports with their academics.
"It's not Harvard Law School," Bennett said. "Junior high level learning is something 95 percent of the kids at Southwest can handle, whether their current grades reflect that or not. There is no reason kids can't be able to get good grades and still be able to perform on the football field."
For the past 13 years at Southwest, Bennett has instituted a system for the football players to stay on top of school while still being able to contribute to the team. Every Friday, students get each of their teachers to sign that they are passing in four categories; effort, attitude, assignments, and if their grades are passing marks. Any student not complying with the above criteria have until their next game (normally Thursdays) to see their teachers privately and get the marks corrected. If they do manage to get the marks corrected and changed, then that student is allowed back to play in the game, however, if they don't get the marks corrected by game day, they are not allowed to play.
"If these students can't succeed in the classroom," Bennett said, "it's because of organization, which is something they have to be learning at this age, and it's something that really isn't that hard to grasp."
The creation of the grade system at Southwest has drawn countless fans disguised as parents and coaches, both groups agree the system has done nothing but great things for the Bulldogs' football program. As for the students at Southwest, most feel the grade check helps, and is a positive force behind the team.
"I like it and I think it's good," Trent Edwards, the Bulldogs' starting freshman tight end, said. "As long as it keeps kids accountable, I think it needs to stay around, I like the way it works."
Many coaches feel that when a new program or system is instituted and the players take it smoothly and actually seem to like it, it's more than likely that things can run smoothly from then on. It would seem that's even more exciting when the students accept the new system but also understand and feel that the message is important.
"If you want to be able to perform well later on in high school," Darrin Sorem, Southwest freshman and starting fullback and linebacker, said. "You have to be able to handle the student part first. Most kids can say that school really isn't that hard if you just take the time to get it taken care of."