Program aims to keep South Tahoe High School student athletes eligible to play
It’s a little after 3 p.m. on a Wednesday and 16 students are gathered in a classroom at South Tahoe High School. Some of them are socializing, others have a cell phone in hand and some have their heads down with a textbook cracked open in front of them.
The one common denominator for freshman Nicolas Sanchez and the other students in the room is a desire to either improve or sustain their current academic performance.
“Grades matter when we get to college,” Sanchez said recently while taking a break from his after-school studies. Sanchez, who aspires to play soccer in college, was ineligible for four games during his first season on the South Tahoe team.
Through the TRIO Educational Talent Search (ETS) program — offered through Lake Tahoe Community College (LTCC) and one of eight federal TRIO outreach and service programs designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds — Sanchez quickly turned his grades around.
Now, a new initiative called Athletes for A’s is taking the TRIO ETS effort and focusing it on student athletes at South Tahoe High.
Athletes for A’s is essentially a sister program of TRIO ETS, and although it is still in its infancy — Athletes for A’s launched in January — it has generated an admittedly surprising level of interest, said Nick Arbelaez, TRiO ETS coordinator for LTCC and founder of Athletes for A’s.
“Shocked,” Arbelaez responded when asked about the response so far. Turnout typically averages anywhere from 20 to 27 student athletes who play mostly soccer and basketball.
“I am confident that ‘Athletes for A’s’ will help our student athletes tremendously,” Eder Vazquez, South Tahoe boys soccer head coach, said in an email. “We all know that the academic success of our students plays a huge role in the success of any athletic program.”
Although their athletes are not currently participating, some of the coaches for fall sports programs are expressing interest. “It’s been pretty special,” Arbelaez added.
Eligibility is not exactly an unheard of challenge facing student athletes.
In fact, its prevalence is in part what led Arbelaez to launch Athletes for A’s. Of the 250 students in TRIO ETS, 40 percent are student athletes, according to Arbelaez.
“When I looked at the numbers, I realized a good percentage were ineligible at some point in the year,” Arbelaez said.
“Last year half the [soccer] team was ineligible to play,” remarked Jair Rodriguez, another freshman at South Tahoe High who, like Sanchez, found himself ineligible early on in the season before turning his grades around.
For students like Rodriguez and Sanchez, Arbelaez, who also coaches the men’s soccer team at LTCC, said he suspects it may have had something to do with the added freedom of high school. Others need the help and tutoring afforded by Athletes for A’s program.
As Arbelaez explained, the program not only provides the tutoring aspect, but it also helps the students achieve balance in their lives, allowing them to juggle and be successful at more than one activity.
It’s a point that Rodriguez reiterated.
“The harder we train, the harder we can work on our studies,” he said.
The primary difference, according to Arbelaez, is that the Athletes for A’s is attempting to reach students before their grades suffer to the point of becoming ineligible. That preventative assistance is something that is lacking in education, he added.
Beyond those points, some feel the program will mold skills that translate to whatever athletic arena and life in general.
“I think the program has the additional benefit that the stronger students are helping their teammates, which will build camaraderie and improve their results on the soccer field as well,” Nancy Harrison, whose son participates in the program, said in an email.
Any students interested in participating in Athletes for A’s or TRIO ETS can email Arbelaez at firstname.lastname@example.org or stop by room A12 at South Tahoe High from after school until 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday.