For many students, sports are an important part of the high school experience. Sporting events have become a favorite pastime in Utah, but for some, negative stereotypes have risen up against athletes.
These stereotypes include such ideas as athletes are not as smart as the rest of the student body, they are poor role models, and they are favored by coaches and teachers.
To get a better understanding of the stereotypes associated with athletes, we talked with some Top of Utah athletes and coaches.
With the time and effort put into athletics, it would be easy to let grades slip, but many students are able to maintain good grade point averages or be honored as Academic All-State.
Bonneville High School, for example, had 27 Academic All-States last year, said principal Art Hansen. According to the Utah High School Activities Association, requirements to be nominated for this award are to have a 3.7 GPA and to be a regular starter for a varsity squad.
Athletes must maintain a GPA of at least a 2.0 during the sport season, and cannot fail more than one class, according to the activities association, but coaches are also allowed to "raise the bar" in academic requirements. The Bonneville boys' basketball team currently has a 3.7 GPA average.
Athletes often put in about "two to three hours after school for practice; those are short days. On game nights, they go from the end of school until maybe 11 p.m. or midnight, whether they're at the game or riding the bus to and from the game," said Rudy Jones, a teacher and former coach at Northridge High.
Poor role models?
Athletes are often expected to set an example by not only their coaches but the community as well.
"They're in a position in which they represent their school, their parents, themselves, and the community, and they have responsibility to all those groups to represent them in a positive image. So people naturally look to them for a role model, and they should be a role model," Jones said.
This expectation for athletes to be a positive influence is found nearly everywhere, ranging from students to teachers alike. Coaches also emphasize the need to be a good example. Often recognized more at school, because of athletics, athletes are watched a little more closely, sometimes being held to a high standard than other students.
Perhaps the most important position as role model that athletes can serve is that of a leader among their teammates.
"When you play sports, you're always involved with people and you learn how to win and lose as a team so you're together, and when you get people together you get a chance to be a leader there," said Jake Hutchins, a basketball player, honor roll student and senior at Bonneville.
Ashton Alvey, a Bonneville senior, basketball and football player, and honor roll student, has similar feelings.
"There's a lot of times when you do play sports that a lot of people up there look up to you and know that you are in those sports, so when you're out, if you're out doing something bad that goes against what you or your team stands for, that a lot of times is frowned upon," Alvey said. "So I feel like you need to be a role model through your sports."
At Syracuse High, senior Steven Carter, who plays football, said he enjoys being considered a role model.
"It was important to be a good example to the juniors and sophomores on our football team," he said. "And not only was I a role model to younger players on our team, but also to young kids throughout the community. I remember when I was a young kid, I thought high school football players were the coolest people in the world and I looked up to them a lot!"
Finally, there's always the stereotype that athletes are favored by teachers and coaches. But occasionally, having to miss class for games, they must work to make up any assignments they may have missed.
Athletes are students first and athletes second, said Jason Finder, a boy's basketball coach at Bonneville.
With this expectation to be good students, there are many athletes who are able to maintain a 4.0 along with excelling in their sport.
"A lot of people don't understand and recognize the true potential that athletes have in the classroom," said Kyle Thompson, a senior at Bonneville who plays baseball.
Some Top of Utah teens agreed that they had felt the effects of discrimination against athletes, although not directly at times.
Tanner Christensen, a junior at Bear River who runs cross country, said, "I run for fun and people make fun of that."
While there are some athletes who may fall into the negative stereotypes, many defy them, rising above what would be a "normal" standard for other students. Not only are they able to maintain great grade point averages, but they are also able to perform at their best on the field. They set an example for not only their fellow classmates, but younger kids as well.
So maybe the real question is: Why is the stereotype for an athlete so far from the reality?
TX correspondents Nathan Beeston, Syracuse High School, and Abby Payne, Bear River High School, contributed to this story.
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Meghan Jones is a sophomore at Bonneville High School. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.