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Education more important than sports
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Many of you might be puzzled by the title of this column, especially since it was written by the sports editor.

Let me assure you it's not a typo.

Part of my job includes covering the prep athletics in Newton County, and keeping abreast of what is going on in this area at all times. There are instances when I learn bits of personal information regarding a certain athlete, particularly why he/she did not dress for a game, and why instead of being on the court he/she is sitting on the bench in street clothes.

And I'm always disappointed to find a student-athlete has to sit out some games because he/she is not getting the job done in the classroom.

The blame can be distributed among the parents, teachers and coaches, but unfortunately in the end it's the student-athlete who suffers the most.

High school athletes who violate an academic school policy are not seeing the big picture, and this is unacceptable. Not only has this person let him/herself down, but this character brings down the entire team.

(I have never and will never single out a specific player or a school or even a coach about it. However, it does not mean I can't use this media outlet to voice my personal opinion regarding the matter.)

So, listen up, athletes: getting your education should be the single most important concern on your agenda right now at this age. Not how many points you're going to score tonight, or how many home runs you can hit, or even how many touchdowns you can throw. Life isn't about how much you can bench press or how fast you can run.

Am I suggesting that sports are irrelevant? Absolutely not. Sports are essential for a number of reasons, such as promoting self-esteem and learning the value of teamwork. (In fact, without sports I wouldn't even have a job!)

However, sports do not come before school. Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 does not come before school. And so on and so forth.

Seriously, what good are you to your team if you failed calculus and have to ride the pine for the remainder of the season? Or how is your absenteeism from school going to make you a better athlete, since you'll be forced to sit on the bench?

No matter how talented you are on the diamond or gridiron or court, it doesn't amount to a hill of beans if you can't pass your classes. Because coaches at the collegiate level scrutinize your studies just as much as your athleticism, at least the ones who really care about you.

As an athlete who struggled sometimes to maintain good grades, I realize how difficult it can be. Fortunately, I was never in a situation when I couldn't play baseball in high school or college because of poor academic work. I refused to give up; therefore, I used others to help me (i.e. parents, professors, friends, tutors, guidance counselors).

If it were easy, everybody would do it; it's the degree of obscurity that makes it worthwhile.

By all means I'm not saying that one with a degree is more important, and I'm not even guaranteeing a degree will make you more successful than the next. What I am saying is that getting your education will open plenty of doors in this world for you, and more opportunities will come knocking at your door.

The reality is no matter what sport you play, whether at the high school, collegiate or professional level, you should always have a back-up plan. And this fall-back plan is your degree. It should take precedent above all else, especially if you have aspirations to continue playing the game you love.

Unfortunately, we live in a society that promotes the "get rich quick" way, which in essence is really implying the easy way out. This especially rings true with sports.

The statistics pertaining to the estimated probability of competing in athletics beyond the high school level is fascinating. And since basketball season is in session, I will share some results regarding this sport:

• There is a 2.9 percent likelihood of a high school boys' basketball player competing at the NCAA level, regardless the division (less than one in 35).

• This number decreases to the 1.3 percent chance of a collegiate basketball player making the jump to the NBA (less than one in 75).

• And the numeral falls to 0.03 if a high school basketball player decides to go straight to the NBA. (But not before sitting out one year, without playing at the NCAA level, due to the new eligibility rule.)

Although these are educated calculations, the numbers don't lie; in fact, they're downright scary.

Prioritizing your studies along with your sport is no simple task, but nonetheless it can be done. And I encourage all of you, no matter what sport you play, to take full advantage of all the resources available that are out there.

The question as to whether or not you can meet this challenge lies within you.