Eagle Valley student athletes put academics first | VailDaily.com
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Eagle Valley student athletes put academics first

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
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GYPSUM, Colorado ” Bad grades means more sprints for the Eagle Valley High School wrestling team.

Every week, the coaches find “reasons to run” ” students who were tardy for a class, caught cursing or slacking in their lessons.

“One kid failing a class buys the entire team five sprints. Everybody runs,” said wrestling coach Ron Beard.

It helps send a message ” academics come first, and the students get it. They encourage each other to work harder in class, and you end up having students who pull themselves from Fs to As, Beard said.

That culture of “class first” is big at Eagle Valley High School “four teams this year were named “Academic Team Champions” in Colorado, which means they had the highest grade point averages for their sports in the state. The teams are the boys and girls alpine ski team, the boys Nordic ski team, and the wrestling team.

“We truly encourage student athletes to get the job done first in the classroom, then excel in the athletic arena,” Principal Mark Strakbein said. “It is a tough endeavor for students who are committed to excelling in both areas.”

Balancing academics and sports has always been a challenge for high school athletes.

The students want to be competitive, and win or lose, they enjoy their sports. They put in two or three hours of practice a night, plus one or more nights a week for competitions.

Considering all that work that goes into practice, it could be easy for students and parents to judge the success of any team based on the number in the “win” column, Strakbein said.

The trick is instilling the right attitude toward athletics in the students ” having them examine at a fundamental level what being on a sports team will do for you, and what it won’t.

For instance, sports can teach you the importance of hard work, prioritizing your time, striving for excellence, problem solving, staying in shape, working with others ” all those life lessons students will rely on for the rest of their life, Strakbein said.

For most students though, skiing or wrestling won’t be a career ” it may not even help them get into college. How a student performs academically, though, will matter, Strakbein said.

“Kids know, and we tell them, your education is what is going to influence your paycheck, not sports,” Beard said. “But we preach, as well, that wrestling will help them because it prepares them for anything life throws at you.”

Often, that message of “academics first” can be lost when society is bombarded with images of professional athletes, many playing right out of high school, maybe going to college one year, many with poor grades. That’s why high school sports, when a school adopts the right attitude, is so pure, Strakbein said.

“The purpose of high school athletics is to help develop the overall student. We’re in the business of creating well-rounded individuals,” Strakbein said.

Joey Bajva, a junior on the wrestling team, said he started the season with an F in chemistry. That meant while his teammates practiced, he had to sit in a room with his homework and books, studying hard until he brought his grades up.

“They’re really good about making sure we’re on top of the grades, making sure we’re where we’re supposed to be,” Bajva said.

Now, his grades, and his team’s grades, are large source of pride for Bajva.

“It’s pretty difficult to do ” we put in two, two and a half hours of practice a night, Monday through Friday,” Bajva said. “The team was pretty excited about (being named academic champions). It was a pretty good accomplishment for us.”

If a student’s grades slip below a C, they won’t be practicing or competing ” that gives them a little more incentive to keep up their school work, said Ashley Weaver, one of the Alpine ski coaches.

Teachers outside the coaching world have to be pretty supportive of as well ” many take on extra work to help students make up assignments missed while they are at competitions or practice, Weaver said.

“Many of these kids are at the top of their class and they have chosen to keep academics a priority while still dedicating their time to improving their ski racing ability,” Weaver said. “It’s not an easy task but these student athletes have risen to the task.”

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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