Years ago, back in my sportswriter days, I did a special investigative report called "Body and Mind," examining the relationship between academics and athletics for high school athletes. One thing that stood out in my study was the fact that sports kept many "borderline" kids in school—students who might otherwise drop out and hit the streets. Sports was an incentive to stay in school and make decent grades.
That thinking certainly applied at Richmond (CA) High School in 1999, though it played out in stark ways—and before a national spotlight—when boys basketball coach Ken Carter adopted a tough shape-up-or-ship-out academic policy for his players. There's nothing unusual about coaches, schools and/or school districts setting minimum academic standards for athletic eligibility, but Carter took it a unique—and controversial—step further: He demanded that every member of his team hold at least a 2.3 grade-point average, or he wouldn't let any of them play.
The players thought it was an idle threat until their report cards came in, and several of them fell short of the 2.3 minimum. Even though the team was undefeated (13-0) and one of the best in the state, Carter stuck to his word: He called off practice, locked the gym, and canceled all future games until every player had reached the standard. The players were shocked, and the community was in an uproar. Even Carter's colleagues at the school—his fellow educators—thought he'd gone too far. Word spread, and eventually the national media picked up the story. Carter was both lauded and lambasted for his refusal to budge.
And with that, you pretty much know the story of Coach Carter, a stirring film starring Samuel L. Jackson in the title ...1
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