IDA GROVE, Iowa | Standing in the OA-BCIG High School Gym on Friday in Ida Grove, I’m surrounded by 350 wrestlers, their fans and cheerleaders, all here for the 44th Annual Herb Irgens Wrestling Invitational.
Many of the wrestlers arrive by 2 p.m., ahead of the 2:30 p.m. weigh-ins.
It’s a Friday afternoon. Shouldn’t they be in class?
The question bugs me in situations like this. It has since 2011, when a teacher told me our son would be doing a bit better if he were in class more often.
I couldn’t argue. Our son, Grady, then a Woodbury Central High School senior, missed school frequently that year for college visits, student council events, jazz band festivals, show choir competitions, speech activities, golf and more.
On Friday, I find senior wrestler Austin Schmit of Don Bosco Catholic High School in Gilbertville, Iowa. He and his team travel 167 miles on Friday to reach Wall Lake, Iowa, where they spend the weekend while wrestling in nearby Ida Grove. Schmit and his teammates miss school on Friday.
“I’ll do my homework on Sunday night,” Schmit says while waiting for a first-round match he wins by fall. “It’s fun to come out here to the other side of the state to wrestle teams we don’t normally see.”
Schmit and his teammates talk to their teachers before they leave to make sure they know what assignments must be turned in either before they depart or upon their return. Occasionally, members of the team study on road trips.
There are Woodbury Central wrestlers in the tournament who miss a portion of school Monday or Tuesday for speech activities. Some miss the entire day on Wednesday to play in the Iowa Lakes Community College Jazz Band Festival at Estherville, Iowa, some 123 miles from the high school in Moville, Iowa.
I’m often at these events. I love covering jazz band festivals. I did a feature two weeks ago on a player in the CNOS Foundation Basketball Classic at the Tyson Events Center. Her team played at 2:45 p.m. on a Thursday, a time when she should have been in chemistry class, or American government.
Am I off base to wonder if these students should be students more often?
Sioux City Superintendent of Schools Paul Gausman understands my concern. He admits students miss instructional time when activities occur during school days. “Sooner or later, you have to go to class,” he says.
The issue prompted Gausman to travel to Boone, Iowa, five years ago with the late Rich Vanderloo and others to speak with officials serving the Iowa High School Athletic Association about the burdens of travel Sioux City’s teams faced in football. In my mind, it wasn’t doing East High a lot of good traveling 288 miles to Ottumwa, as one example, for a high school football game.
“We told them we may do a double round-robin schedule in our town if it didn’t change,” Gausman recalls. “Not only was the schedule (set by the state) eating into our instructional time, it was costing us a lot of money for our transportation.”
The IHSAA listened and modified Sioux City’s football travel slate. The organization listened again this week and eliminated the “Sister Districts” concept that had several teams driving up to 200 miles for substate football games on a Wednesday evening in late October. The distance limit has now been set at 125 miles for first-round playoff games.
Chad Moseman, head football coach at Lawton-Bronson High School, says his squad departed for Ackley, Iowa, last fall shortly after lunch. The Eagles traveled 169 miles to face Ackley-Geneva/Wellsburg-Steamboat Rock in the substate contest. Moseman, a history and government teacher, didn’t instruct students that afternoon. He couldn’t, from a bus.
A school bus is where Dave Fravel, West High assistant principal, found himself teaching student-athletes years ago. He and another assistant track coach would divide the bus into quadrants. Fravel would work with students in math while another coach gave assistance in science. A student versed in Spanish directed a study session in that subject.
“I’ve watched kids do homework in the bleachers at the Drake Relays,” Fravel says.
Fravel researched the topic as well. And while he doesn’t like to see students miss class, his findings show students in extracurricular activities excel academically.
“It’s a dramatic difference,” Fravel says, remembering his statistics. “Students in activities generally had grade-points in the 3.1 to 3.2 range. Those not involved in activities were in the 2.4 to 2.5 grade-point range.”
Gausman agrees and notes studies show students who play in the band, wrestle for the team or perform in drama do a better job in the classroom.
Gausman, a former band director, cannot recall one instance in his career in education when a parent or a teacher approached him with the concerns I express.
Moseman, who had students miss his Friday morning classes for speech activities, says the students in extracurricular activities not only must meet requirements set forth in a code of conduct to be able to play, they must also pass each classroom course. The motivation to participate keeps them focused on quizzes, term papers and exams.
“When kids are out for activities, they’re more connected to school, and that connection helps academically,” says Doug Glackin, the Woodbury Central High School superintendent, who also teaches math. Glackin says his school schedules classes with extracurricular activities in mind. The eighth and final period of the day features fewer classes than any other time slot. That’s because students miss that period more for things like the wrestling tournament in Ida Grove on Friday.
“It’s a gamble, having kids miss class for activities,” says Greg Forney, band instructor at Okoboji High School in Milford, Iowa. “I don’t want my students to take a day off from school and not gain anything.”
That said, his musicians are constantly learning about time management, teamwork, problem solving and the ability to think on their feet. Those concepts will all be put to use daily as adults in their families, communities and places of employment.
“Are the benefits worth the costs?” Forney asks. “I think about it all the time.”
Good. I’m not the only one.