Backpacks and basketballs: How athletes balance the books |

Backpacks and basketballs: How athletes balance the books

Seth Lightcap/Sierra Sun

TAHOE CITY ” For parents who choose to raise their children in the picturesque landscapes of Northern California and Nevada, a trade-off is made in regards to the balance between their child’s class time and athletic events.

Since so much of the landscape is desolate ” requiring an hour or more of travel sometimes between one town and the next ” one reality of living here is high school athletes sometimes spend hours on a bus, often missing class time and even a full day of school in transit.

For students at Truckee, North Tahoe and Incline High Schools, travel times can stretch to more than four hours one way for games against league opponents, as is the case with the trip to Battle Mountain High School.

“Any class time they miss is valuable,” said Incline High School Spanish teacher Janette Holman. “But it’s a give and take, because while it’s important they be in class, we also need to have well-rounded students.”

Holman said younger students who are adjusting to high school generally struggle the most with the demanding athletics schedule, while the upper level students don’t see much of a dent in their academic performance.

Joanne Mathis, athletics director and registrar at North Tahoe High School, said participating in athletics is a privilege, and students know the expectations they must meet before joining a team.

“They know they have to maintain a certain level of performance to be involved in sports,” Mathis said.

She said most students who participate in athletics are generally better students than their peers and don’t require much extra attention.

But, Mathis said, student athlete grades will sometimes fluctuate depending on their involvement in a particular season.

“It isn’t uncommon to see kids who were focusing on a sports season to have their grades suddenly pick up when it’s over,” Mathis said.

The phenomena isn’t specific to Tahoe City. Dan Schreiber, athletic director at Incline and the school’s varsity boys basketball coach, said he tells his team to expect a drop in grades during the season.

“I warn my team that they’ll probably drop a full grade during the season if they don’t keep up,” Schreiber said. “When they know ‘this is what you’ve got to do’ they start to catch on and work pretty hard at it.”

He said athletes make sacrifices, often doing homework on the less-than-ideal study surface of a bus seat.

Eric Baron, a sophomore at Incline High School who runs cross county and track, said communication with teachers is a key to maintaining academic success.

“I usually talk to my teachers a couple days before a road trip,” Baron said. “I’ll do things like talk to a friend in the class to see if I can get their notes.”

Most teachers are helpful, Baron said, and understand an athlete has commitments and are willing to work with a student.

Each of the area schools maintains a policy regarding participation in athletics and grades. Students at Incline and the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District must maintain at least a 2.0 GPA and record no failing grades during any semester to remain eligible. Both districts allow students a day to make up class work for each day they miss.

Often, though, students aren’t the problem. Holman said athletes routinely turn in work early or even take tests before their classmates.

When teachers travel

The struggle for area schools isn’t limited to missing one student for one day. It includes missing a teacher who also acts as coach, which is common in most local athletic programs.

“What may affect us more than having students gone is when our instructors are gone,” said Bill Frey, principal at North Tahoe High. “That person affects as many as 120 kids for an entire day, that’s a huge concern especially for schools with a limited substitute pool.”

Scott Everist, a world history teacher at North Tahoe High School and the school’s varsity football and alpine skiing coach, said he looks at a schedule well ahead of time to coordinate with substitutes.

“You just try to schedule work for that day that the students can take care of on their own,” Everist said.

Schreiber said teachers missing time is a huge concern, but added Incline was fortunate to have good substitutes and said teacher-coaches sit down with the school’s administrative secretary as soon as they get their schedules to attain subs for that day.

The schools also try to minimize out-of-class time by scheduling teams like South Tahoe, Whittell and the other two North Shore schools for weekday games, saving the Yeringtons and Battle Mountains for Fridays.

Also, schools will schedule two far-flung schools for a weekend trip, playing Winnemucca (Lowry High School) on Friday before Elko (Spring Creek) on Saturday, or vice-versa.

“We really make a conscious effort around the state to minimize the time kids are out of class,” Schreiber said.

Proposed reconfigurations for the Northern Nevada athletic leagues, announced Monday, mean Truckee’s longest trips in the Northern Div. II are schools like Spring Creek and Yerington. Incline and North Tahoe potentially add the 4- to 5-hour trip McDermitt High School near the Nevada/Oregon border, north of Winnemucca, but drop the trips to Battle Mountain and Elko.

The reconfiguration, according to the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, is partially aimed at reducing loss of instructional times.

In a district meeting scheduled for Wednesday, officials will discuss whether or not parents should be charged somewhere between $150-$250 annually per student for bus services.

WHERE: The Sierra Mountain Community Education Center in Truckee

WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

MORE: Find the story online at

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