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MAKING THE GRADE High school athletes juggle practices and homework

It is not at all uncommon to find marquee athletes who excel on the field or court. Some of these excel in the classroom as well. How do students find enough hours in the day to combine long hours of sports practice and competition with the demands of math tests and Advanced Placement course work?

Jessica Seebald, a senior at Nardin, first got into basketball in sixth grade. "All of my friends were playing basketball, so I joined to so that I could be with them." She played JV basketball her freshman and sophomore year of high school and varsity last year and again this year, while managing to stay on the honor roll all four years of high school. She has also taken six Advanced Placement classes, her most current including AP Biology, AP English and AP Spanish. "I always have to use my free periods and after school before practice to get my work done," she said. She won the Coaches Award at the end of her sophomore year based on leadership and team effort. Her goal for this season, as it is every season, is to improve as a player. As for her team, "We really want to beat Sacred Heart, since they have beat us for the last four years in the Monsignor Martin League," she said.

Olivia Cox is a senior on the basketball team at City Honors, where she has been a Ventures Scholar and listed in Who's Who Among High School Students. She has been on the honor roll and in the National Honor Society. She is taking International Baccalaureate classes including Spanish, Math Studies, Biology, World Literature, Theory of Knowledge and History of the Americas. "It is hard for me to memorize another language, and I skipped a math level to meet a graduation requirement, so I have to work very hard to keep up," she said. "I have to stay up late at night, use my study halls wisely and often bring homework on the team bus."
Senior John Greer plays both football and basketball at St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute and and hopes to play Division I football in college. He has been team captain of both sports and has been on the honor roll. "My greatest accomplishment was winning two Catholic state championships and making it to Glens Falls," he said.

Time management is huge in juggling academics and sports, he says. "You have to use your time well and get everything done that you can in your free time," John said. He is taking Statistics, Business, American Literature and Government this year, to name a few. "Psychology has a lot of stuff you need to memorize and know. The homeworks are pretty long and the tests are lengthy as well. However, you always have to take the tests and do the assignments on time," he said.
He also said: "If you are playing sports, you can't save all your work for later. You have to use your time well and get everything done you can in your free time. It's really hard getting home at about five or six every day after practice. Socializing with your family and friends can only take place on the weekends."

Senior Aaron Foote is on the basketball, track and cross country teams at Niagara-Wheatfield High School. He has been team captain in all three sports and also has been named to All-WNY teams. At the same time he has been on the High Honor roll throughout high school and is a member of National Honor Society.

Although he loves basketball, he is best at cross country and track. One thing he learned from track is that nutrition is important. "Running is huge about nutrition, so what I have learned from that has carried over in to basketball." He was a gold medalist at the 2006 Empire State Games in the 1500-meter race.

He is looking at both Auburn and Annapolis, since they have offered him scholarships. Aaron hopes to be a civil engineer.

His organizational habits started early. "In fifth and sixth grade I didn't want to do homework that night, so if I worked hard during the school day, I wouldn't have to worry about homework and I could just focus on basketball," says Aaron.

He has taken AP U.S. History, Calculus and English and knows how hard these courses are. "If it's not one, it's the other, there is always some paper or assignment to be done for AP," says Aaron. "You cannot waste too much time as an athlete ... I have to plan ahead and get work done in school as much as possible during the season."

He said he has found teachers are very reluctant to give student-athletes breaks on assignments. "Teachers either like athletes more or are extra-mean to athletes," he said.

One concern for student-athletes is rules about playing on game day. You have to be at school for a certain amount of time in order to play in a game. At Niagara-Wheatfield, "You have to be in school for at least a half of your academic schedule not counting lunch. You also have to be in gym class on practice and game days," Aaron said.

Some schools choose a certain time that you have to be in attendance, but whatever is chosen, athletes always make sure that they are there. John Greer said, "You have to be in school by 10 a.m. You have to attend, or else you can't play, no exceptions."

All four athletes said teachers would never excuse them from a test or assignment because of a game conflict. Cox and Seebald both noted that City Honors and Nardin take pride in academics first before athletics.

Athletes say the juggling act is worth it in the end. The friendships made through athletics are very strong. Since much time is spent with teammates practicing, bonding together is a natural instinct. "Having a lot of fun with what you are doing, becoming close with your coaches because they could help you a lot down the road with job opportunities," said John. "Making all the friends and carrying out the relationships after they graduate is also a plus."

"All my friends are from the sports I play," said Aaron. "I wouldn't trade this for anything."

Karlyn Tramposch is a junior at Nardin.

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