If student athletes don't make the grade, they won't make the team. That's the message Henrico County and Richmond schools are sending about new GPA requirements for students who play sports.
Experts say in many cases, raising the bar often translates into success. In other cases, the answers don't come as easy.
On the court, either you've got it or you don't.
"Every day, I work out after school. Then, when I come from school, I play basketball again when I get home," says 17-year-old Evan Cain.
It's his love for the game that keeps him reaching for more, although life sometimes meets obstacles.
"They weren't really doing nothing with their life and I was hanging around them so much, wasn't really getting my work done," he says, describing older students at his former school.
That's why he transferred schools to get a fresh start in the classroom. That's the renewed focus for hundreds of student athletes right now. Henrico just raised the requirement to a 2.0 GPA for student athletes to play.
Sociology professor and author of "Living Through the Hoop", Dr. Reuben May has concerns after talking with young athletes struggling to make the grade.
"Many of them have already met with such struggles in education that they're discouraged, and it's through athletic participation that many of them are able to sustain participation in school overall," May said.
He believes extra support is critical to make the new plan work. Otherwise, the effects could be devastating.
"Many of them will turn to the very things that we try to encourage students to shy away from, the risks associated with living life on the street," May added.
Richmond schools enacted the 2.0 requirement two months after deciding to raise the bar.
"We have baseball coaches who can't fill the team," Thomas Jefferson High coach Eric Harris said occurred as an effect.
Henrico, on the other hand, is using next year as a pilot, then making the mandate in 2014, offering extra tutoring to help struggling athletes. Dr. May says now the pressure is on the district to do it right.
"If we implement a program, we jump from a 1.7 to a 2.0 and we don't have the necessary support....We're at risk of cutting them loose," he said.
Especially when so many student athletes' worlds seem to center around their sport.
"I've got other talents but I love basketball so much. Cutting it out of my life would be, I don't know...Some people, they're surrounded by bad environments, if they're not doing something they love, they may go into something bad. It is what it is," Cain said.
That's why he is committing to concentrate so he won't lose focus.
"I'm going to try everything in my power for that not to happen," the teenager said.
Henrico Commonwealth Attorney Shannon Taylor says from a public safety standpoint it's important to keep kids in school. A goal that can be achieved in part, Dr. May adds, by keeping student athletes engaged and able to do what motivates so many of them to succeed.
NBC 12 reached out to Henrico County School's superintendent for an interview. We received a statement from the district's spokesman saying, it will work to empower coaches, teachers, and parents to rally around student athletes in helping them learn to put academics first.
The system is considering changing its grading policy from a seven-point scale to a 10-point scale. Proponents argue this would also help struggling athletes meet the new GPA requirement.
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