High school student-athletes maintain focus
By Aaron McKrell
Eagle Staff Writer
Alyssa Eyth competes against West Shamokin in the opening women's game of the
Armstrong Tip-Off Tournament at Armstrong High School in Manor Township in
Butler County student-athletes are balancing brawn on the playing field with brains in the classroom.
Even though heavy athletic and academic workloads can put a strain on them, many student-athletes have mastered the juggling act of a high grade-point average and a high win count.
“It comes down to time management,” said Joe Lewandowski, coach of the Butler High School girls basketball team. “(That's) the most effective way we see it all the time. The students who don't waste the minutes, if they know we have 45 minutes before the bus leaves, they're sitting in the hallway and they're doing their homework instead of maybe playing on their cell phones.”
Lewandowski knows the balancing act as well as anyone; in his 12 years as a basketball coach, he has never had an ineligible athlete.
“I just think that, like anything, basketball is getting you ready for life,” Lewandowski said. “In life you have to compete at everything you do, and in the classroom you're competing as well.
“We want our kids to be competitive. We want them to really push themselves in the classroom, because when it gets down to it, the scholarships and schools you can get into, it's not just based on what you can do in athletics. They're based on your academics.”
Lewandowski's rhetoric has been heard loud and clear by his athletes. Alyssa Eyth, a junior, has a 4.26 GPA out of a possible 5, and Heidi Gross, a sophomore, has a 4.2 GPA.
Both are three-sport athletes who always prioritize their test scores before their game scores.
“Definitely I feel that the priorities need to be in order,” said Gross, 16. “Definitely education first, and then sports, but there definitely needs to be time management between those.”
Both want to continue their athletic careers in college, and know that to do so they have to get good grades.
High School basketball players Heidi Gross, left, and Alyssa Eyth balance
their studies with their athletics through time management, sacrifice and
“Athletics and academics kind of go hand in hand,” said Eyth, 17. “If both of them are really good, than you have a really good chance for a scholarship, so you are always wanting to try your best in both.”
Gross and Eyth achieve this by fitting in their homework when they can, whether in study halls during the school day, at night after practice or in the morning before school.
This doesn't leave much time for sleep, but they fit that in too.
“I don't get in a lot of sleep, but on the weekend it's sleeping in and trying to get your work done then,” Eyth said.
Gross said power naps during the bus rides to and from away games also are beneficial.
Both students are willing to make the sacrifice, not only for the chance at a potential scholarship but for their teammates as well.
“Everyone has a role on the team, so if you can't fill that role because you don't have good grades, then you're definitely letting everyone down,” Eyth said.
Austin Romanchak, a sophomore football player at Freeport High School, has a 3.8 GPA out of 4 and shares their sense of responsibility.
Romanchak was a standout quarterback for Freeport this year, throwing for 676 yards and nine touchdowns, while running for 666 yards and five touchdowns.
“Being a star, you don't want to let your team down for sure,” said Romanchak, 16. “Having such a big role, you feel like you want to be a role model and lead them and show them (good) grades.”
Like Eyth and Gross, Romanchak fits in his school work where and when he can. He and his teammates benefit from Freeport football coach John Gaillot, who runs study sessions before school from 6:50 to 7:30 a.m. each day during football season.
He usually has a study hall during the school day, and after school the team practices until around 6 p.m. After that, Romanchak does his homework as soon as he gets home.
Even though this schedule creates fatigue, Romanchak has found that the time constraints created by sports have made it easier to focus on school work.
“It provides a lot of structure to our day, because it provides more set-up and routine, and we have practice every day and we have to go and focus on our homework in the morning,” he said.
Romanchak said the coaches' emphasis on school work, from the study sessions to giving weekly print-outs of their grades each week, makes it easier to focus on their studies during the season.
Eyth, who doesn't have an offseason during the school year, said balancing athletics with academics has helped her work ethic.
“You know that you have to work hard to get something out of (athletics), and it definitely is the same thing for school,” she said.
Romanchak competes in track and field in the spring, but has an offseason during the winter. Even though he lifts weights during the winter with the football team, he noticed that it's harder to maintain structure in the offseason.
“It's definitely harder with more time on your hands, because people want to sleep after a long day,” he said. “It is a little bit more difficult without routine, but we still have that study hall throughout the day. People will know if you're academically ineligible, and you don't want to be, because that's kind of embarrassing if you think about it.”
Like Gross and Eyth, Romanchak has his sights set on an athletic scholarship, and said that he knows good grades will help achieve that goal and also lighten the financial burden of tuition costs.
Mars High School junior Robby Carmody, a Division I basketball recruit who has received attention from the likes of the University of Kentucky, also knows the score when it comes to academics.
“I pride myself on my schoolwork a lot,” he said. “It's just been something that's been ingrained in me since I was a little kid in case (basketball) doesn't work out, so you can get a good degree.”
Lewandowski spoke of values learned by student-athletes, not only in the classroom but in life
“What I love about athletics is this: there are so many lessons,” he said. “You're coming home after a loss, you have to come home and do work. You have to fight through that adversity and you have to say, 'Hey, you know what, I still have to take care of my end to be a great student.'”