Ineligibility consequences are too harsh

Student Athletes struggle with their academics and busy sport schedule.

Mariah Stewart

Student Athletes struggle with their academics and busy sport schedule.

Mariah Stewart


It’s your senior year and your fourth year cheering for West Ottawa on the Sideline Cheer team. You are hitting new stunts, getting closer to skills, and learning new chants. During one of your four-hour summer practices your coach calls you and the other girls on the team over. Hesitantly, you and your teammates sit down. Your coaches explain that you and a few teammates can not participate during games for the whole season because of your grades from last year’s second-semester. Your stomach sinks. “What does that have to do with this year?” 

   Sr. Jocelyn Sandoval and Sr. Camila Cortez has been facing this reality. These two seniors are still devastated by this consequence months after hearing about it.

   You get done with soccer tryouts and try to see if you made the team. It’s your senior year and this is a great way to start it off. It’s your last year playing soccer because there aren’t many opportunities for you to play on a soccer team after high school. During practice your coach calls you over and tells you that you aren’t allowed to participate in any games this year because of your grades last year and urges you to talk to the athletic director to see what you can do.  Cheer isn’t the only sport affected by eligibility consequences this year. This is a reality for Sr. Alan Martinez.

   Of course athletes should follow the rules that they signed in the athletic handbook before playing their sport. Athletes need to put academics first and sports second. Although the punishment for failing classes is too harsh for student athletes.  Researchers from At Your Own Risk from clearly indicate that “Participation in team sports results in a higher GPA for both high school boy and girl athletes.” and “High school students, especially female students, who play sports are less likely to drop out.” Sports can provide students with a community, life skills, and encouragement. Yet students haven’t been kicked off the team for their last semester grades and many feel like there’s no point. They still have to put in the practice and work but can’t show it off when it’s time to perform or play a game. 

   The cheer season began back in June and I was so excited to come back with my team. We began working hard and rigorously with four-hour practices, weight lifting, and conditioning. After last year’s competitive season filled with constant disappointment and change, I was ready for a season full of improvement and success. Our workouts had been making us stronger and our stunt groups hit new stunts left and right. 

   Just when our team seemed to be making tremendous progress we got hit with an obstacle, yet again. A few members of our team were told they were not allowed to participate in our game performance. The student athletes said that because of their grades during the second semester of 2021-2022 school year they cannot participate in cheer during games. Considering Sideline cheer’s goal is to practice skills, stunts, and chants for football games, practicing felt pointless. 

WOHS/MHSAA Requirements:

   The members on my team along with athletes on other West Ottawa Sports teams were informed that they did not meet the MHSAA/WOPS eligibility standards and their penalty would not have access to participate in sports for 60 days. The Athletic Handbook says, “Previous Semester: Student-athletes must have passed at least five (5) classes, each worth .50 credit, during the previous semester of enrollment to participate. If a student did not, they become ineligible to compete for 60 school days.” 

   Before students can play a sport at West Ottawa High School they are required to sign up on Final Forms and sign the required agreements. One of the agreements states that you have read the athletic handbook. Outside of this agreement, the rules on eligibility aren’t discussed frequently. There has been a delay in eligibility consequences because of Covid-19. 

   Students were given grace during Covid-19 for many reasons including quarantines and online learning. It seems like everyone knows different rules about eligibility. Many have heard different rules about eligibility from people in different grades and sports. Students become forced to give up on the one thing that keeps them going. Sports provide so much more than athletic improvement. When sports participation gets away from a student in such a severe way, it does not provide benefits and only hurts them.

   Student athletes should be responsible for their own grades and stay on top of success. Each student athlete eligibility situation can be different. It is important that student athletes are given more accessible resources and support when their grades begin to drop. Unfortunately, student-athletes at West Ottawa have been negatively impacted by the harsh eligibility consequences this year. 

Student-Athletes have struggled with balancing life and academics:

   A student athlete’s lack of academic success is understandable. They face issues of juggling school, sports, and family life. Even though Martinez’s grades were not up to standards, it wasn’t that Martinez didn’t care. He was battling something bigger than grades: anxiety. Something student-athletes know all too well. We try to balance family life, home problems, social life, school, and practice. 

   Sometimes we get overwhelmed and just shut down. Martinez said, “Anxiety was one of the reasons I couldn’t control my grades.” This is not an excuse for his grades but it’s an explanation for why he struggled with academics. Since quitting the team he has decided to focus on work and school. He may not have been put in this situation if he was given more accessible resources and support during his battle with anxiety. 

   Sandoval explains that her grades from last year do not display her intelligence positively. Although, she has an explanation, “I was going through family problems and grades are something hard for me to worry about.” Sandoval would have benefited from support and academic help during this hard time. Her grades during the cheer season are almost always within the requirements. Sandoval explains, “They took away the one thing that encourages me to keep my grades up.” 

   Many students struggle with their mental health. Student-athletes can relate to trying to balance life and sports. We get home late from practices and have piles of homework and carry the weight of our sport with us as well. Some students at West Ottawa struggle with the burden of family stability. With so many changing circumstances like where they will be sleeping that night, how they will help their parents pay bills, and who’s going to take care of their siblings there’s one constant, practice with their team, their second family.

   This punishment is very harsh and detrimental to student-athletes who are passionate about their sport. It’s understandable to prohibit students from participating until their current grades are within the WOPS/MHSSA standards. I do not think penalizing students for their grades that aren’t in the current sports season is beneficial. Sports often encourage students to keep their grades up and make sure that academics get put first.

   Fortunately, their coaches try to get them as many things as they can and have been trying to advocate for them to at least participate in some games before the season ends. Sandoval and Cortez have reached out to see their options for them to earn the credits they need before the end of the season. They have found one that works for their situation and specific credits needed. They both have been hoping something changes before the season ends unfortunately they are beginning to lose hope.

Athletes Left Feeling Hopeless and lost: 

   Some may think that consequences may encourage students to keep their grades up and work harder. Since they cannot participate regardless of their current grades it feels almost pointless to get their grades up to standards for Cortez and Sandoval. They become able to participate in practice but since practice provides preparation for game day there’s no use putting them in just to take them out for the game.

   Cortez yearns for the chance to have fun under the Friday Night Lights again. “I want all the feelings you get under the lights, the excitement and even the nervous ones,” Cortez said. Cortez and Sandoval seem to be committed to having their grades up for the upcoming Competitive Cheer season with hopes they can participate by the middle of their season.   

   Similarly, Martinez does not think this consequence is fair. Martinez felt like there was no point, “No point of putting the work in if you couldn’t play in games.” Why participate in the conditioning, drills, and work if you can’t show it off at games? Martinez decided to quit the team. It was a hard decision but he had to do what was best for him. He’s not able to play Soccer in his last year of high school. Martinez shares, “I grew up playing soccer. This year my family can’t come to watch. They have watched me play since middle school.” He’s devastated by this decision. 

   He has slightly benefited academically, “My work ethic in school has somewhat gotten better.”, “Makes me want to put more work in because it’s the reason I wasn’t able to play last year”, and “If I had another year I wouldn’t make the same mistake,” Martinez said. He knows that academics have importance and will work harder this year to get his grades in better place. He may have benefited academically from this consequence but he was deeply saddened because he could not participate.

Students lose their family/support system:

   Sports provide so much more than athletic improvement. Sports teams provide a family and support system for student-athletes. Sandoval and Cortez both said, “It’s not fair.” Their last year to participate in school sports and had been taken away from them. Cortez shares, “I feel like a doll at practice. I just sit there and watch” and “Cheer is a team sport. If one person is gone three to four people can’t stunt and chant lines have to be rearranged.”

   His teammates have been affected by his absence, “My team wished that I was able to play and do something about it.” When a teammate quits the team it affects every single person on the team. You lose a player but you also lose a friend. Martinez went to a soccer game and watched his teammates from the sidelines. When asked “How does it feel to watch your teammates participate?” he shares, “I still enjoy watching them play.” Martinez still wishes he was out on the field and wants to leave his heart out on the field. 

Student-Athletes deserve more opportunities for success: 

   If this rule will continue to stay in place, there should be more communication with athletes and coaches when the sport is not in season to make sure athletes are still keeping up with their grades. It would be beneficial for athletes to have more support when it comes to academics.

  Contrary, I understand that students must have responsibility for their academics. Once they leave high school no one will bring them to success, they will be on their own. Student-Athletes must learn how to obtain success while balancing multiple responsibilities. 

   We do have an after-school study program but many athletes cannot attend. The majority of practices at West Ottawa start around three o’clock. and that conflicts with the study program. Athletes understand the importance of being at practice and don’t want to get penalized for missing practice either. A virtual homework/study help program at a later time is a great idea to help student-athletes. Many colleges offer a zoom program where students can sign up for a time to get one-on-one tutoring free of charge. I have benefited from that program at a local community college. 

   Students that have been subject to this consequence may have options to participate before the season ends. Depending on the credit they need, they may have the possibility to enroll in a West Ottawa Virtual Academy Course. Students would have to work hard to finish and pass a nine-week course before their season ends. Students have been allowed to complete courses during summer school, however, this is not a viable option for some. Some students leave Michigan for months during the summer or have to work to help their family’s financial situation. If someone can attend summer school it’s a great option! If this situation applies to you it’s best to reach out to your counselor here at West Ottawa to see if any of our amazing programs and courses can help you get back on track to play again.