Playing football serves as motivation to do well in classroom at NHS
NATCHEZ — Devonte Green was a tackling machine for the Natchez High School football team in its game against Wayne County High School Friday night.
The senior linebacker tallied 13 tackles in the Bulldogs’ game against the War Eagles. The opportunity to make plays on Friday nights is what Green looks forward to every week.
In fact, if Green didn’t have football, he said his academic performance would likely suffer. Though Green stressed that he wouldn’t drop out of school if he couldn’t play football, he admitted that much of his classroom motivation is football-related.
“Football really motivates me — one of the (main) reasons I go to school is to play football,” Green said. “If I didn’t play football, I would probably be in school, but I probably wouldn’t succeed as well as I have.”
And Green is not alone in that regard. NHS assistant coach Trey Woodard said the Mississippi High School Activities Association and the Natchez-Adams School District’s grade requirements for athletic eligibility have given many of his players that extra push they need to do well in the classroom.
“A lot of our kids — I don’t want to say sports has saved them, but we’ve had a lot of kids that, when they get with us, (discipline) referrals disappear, grades improve and they kind of get out of a downward spiral,” Woodard said.
An overall 60 average or above is required by the NASD for players to maintain eligibility. Also, if a player has two F averages during one grading period, that player is ineligible, per NASD policy. The MHSAA requirement is for each player to have a 75 overall average at the end of each semester.
NHS head football coach Lance Reed said he believes extra curricular involvement plays a key role in a student’s educational experience.
“It takes coming to school with a good frame of mind to be able to function in the classroom, and I think being a part of a program or organization within the school gives students an opportunity to be connected with the school and identify with it,” Reed said. “I think that translates to efforts within the classroom.”
Woodard said, in some cases, the coaches are the only ones pushing the players outside the classroom.
“Some of these kids don’t have anyone at home trying to motivate them, so any extra push we can give them, that’s a positive, because the first thing a coach is, is a role model,” Woodard said. “The biggest problem in our community is that there aren’t a lot of positive male role models. Any time you can be one when they don’t have one, that’s a big deal.”
Senior offensive lineman Darius McGruder said the coaches offer the players tutoring after school as a way to help players maintain their grades. Reed teaches math and Woodard history at NHS, and having coaches with an educational background is a big plus for the program, McGruder said.
“I know some players who don’t know what to do in class, and they ask the coaches for tutoring, and they pick it up just like that — instantly,” McGruder said.
McGruder also said without tutoring, many players’ grades would otherwise suffer.
“They’re not going to know (the material) going home, and with tutoring, it helps keep their grades up and keep them on the field playing,” McGruder.
The threat of letting your teammates down by not staying eligible is a major motivational factor, senior cornerback Cedarius Bailey said.
“You want to be there for your team by being eligible to play,” Bailey said. “I feel like if some of these players weren’t involved with sports, their grades would suffer, because (staying eligible) keeps them focused in class.”
Reed said in addition to tutoring, coaches also act as go-betweens for players and their teachers at times. In the past, the coaches had mandated study halls, but the program has gone away from those in recent years in order to get players done with practice and home so they can study.