ETHS students who participate in sports have higher grade-point averages (GPAs) than students who do not participate in sports, according to the annual Evanston Township High School Athletics Department report shared with the District 202 School Board at its Nov. 23 meeting. The report also highlighted increased participation numbers, the past year’s successes and future plans for the athletic department.

Academic Achievement

“One of the things I’m most proud of each year is the strong connection sports has with academic achievement in the classroom,” said Chris Livatino, ETHS athletic director, as he introduced the report.

The average semester GPA is 3.54 for all student-athletes versus 2.85 for student nonathletes. For Latino and black student-athletes, the average semester GPAs were 0.84 and 0.57 higher than Latino and black students not involved in athletics. Further, 33 of 35 varsity teams earned the Illinois High School Association Team Academic Achievement Award for having team GPAs above 3.0, and 24 varsity teams earned above a 3.4 team GPA. Mr. Livatino attributed these successes to, “coaches and sponsors who care.” The athletic department constantly monitors grades of participants, he said.

Participation and Specialization

While the total number of unique individual participants increased, seasonal participation dropped slightly but is still the second highest in ETHS history, the report said. “This reflects unfortunately what we’re seeing in society, where kids are specializing more. We are working to change that, but it’s difficult with club athletics (where specialization is emphasized),” said Mr. Livatino.

Board member Monique Parsons said it is unfortunate when students are “not able to take advantage of being a multi-sport athlete. I know it’s the specialization. I know some select as they get deeper into their high school years. I believe the more students participate in different sports, the less injuries they have and the more options they have. It’s challenging and difficult when they don’t get those options.”

Mr. Livatino agreed saying, “This is an area that’s important to me, something I preach about at all preseason meetings. It’s a matter of educating parents.” Many students specialize in a single sport before high school, sometimes because they are “misinformed by club programs who promise scholarships if they play year round,” he said. Some programs are “not too receptive” to this conversation because they are “driven by the almighty dollar.” He did acknowledge that there are more community-based feeder programs who are mindful of the situation and “get it. …This is one reason we started multi-sport initiative and Girls Play Sports.” Both programs are “predicated on [the multi-sport] philosophy. We’ve reached hundreds of girls in the last few years. I’m hopeful we’ll see a change in numbers.

Female participation in sports also dropped slightly, but has still increased almost 20% during the last three years, and there is still greater participation in sports by females than males overall. Participation in sports by Latinas, which is an area the department targeted, increased by 27.1% in one year.

Building Bridges, Community Connections

“We try to build connections with groups outside ETHS”, said Mr. Livatino. He highlighted the Middle School Multi-Sport Challenge the Girls Play Sports program, and ETHS-D65 Field Day.

More has been done to support the college bound student-athlete as well. Last year a concerted effort was begun to help kids navigate the recruitment processes. Joyce Anderson, ETHS tennis coach, took on the additional role of advising college-bound athletes. In her first year, she helped advise 70 students about the college recruitment process and this year hopes to work with 200 more to help student-athletes “understand the process and motivate them to work hard,” said Mr. Livatino.

Ms. Parsons called the new initiative “priceless” and praised the department for collaborating with counselors in assisting college-bound athletes.

Doug Holt, Board Member, said that whether or not a student athlete goes on to play in college, “it’s important that we as a community not lose sight of the life lessons” in sports. “That’s what really lasts.”

The report also highlighted several “significant corporate sponsorship supports,” referencing year-round connections and programs with District 65, the Boosters, Kiwanis Club and Northwestern.

Making History/Future Plans

Mr. Livatino’s report also detailed accomplishments over the past year and plans for the future. “It was a very solid year in competition last year,” said Mr. Livatino. He highlighted a few of the history making achievements made in ETHS sports last year. Boys Track & Field captured 2nd Place at IHSA State Finals with State Championships in the 4×100 and 4×200 Rrelays as well as CSL South and IHSA Sectional Championships. Wrestling set an ETHS record for most wins in a season (32) and won the IHSA Regional Championship advancing to the Sweet 16. Baseball also set an ETHS record for most wins in a season (28) and won CSL South and IHSA Regional Championships. Badminton and Boys Swimming won IHSA Sectional Championships. Girls Basketball advanced to the 3rd straight Sweet 16 and Boys Basketball won the CSL South Championship. Four coaches were honored as Coach of the Year: Kevin Auger, Mike Ellis, Chester Jones and Elliot Whitefield.

Mr. Livatino also told School Board members about several initiatives his department plans to focus on in the near future. Increasing participation for black and Latino student-athletes across all sports, and increasing the number of coaches on staff to support the large number of participants are two goals. “We’re maxed out with the coaches we have. I know the budget takes precedent, but it’s a hope.” The department would also like to build upon the support structure to assist student-athletes with the college recruiting process and improve off-season strength and conditioning opportunities for student-athletes. Mr. Livatino also expressed a desire to improve the aesthetics of the Athletic Wing to “highlight the strong history and tradition of ETHS Sports.”

“It’s clear there is an emphasis on academic performance,” Board President Pat Savage-Williams told Mr. Livatino. “It’s unbelievable how much better students do when they are involved. Kids really learn skills they take with them like discipline, time management. Those are the skills they need to be successful at whatever they do after high school. This is such an important program.”

“We are looking for as much proof as possible that kids should be involved in sports,” said Mr. Livatino. “We are constantly saying to get involved in something. This is pretty compelling evidence.”

ETHS Superintendent Eric Witherspoon echoed those comments. “It’s not only athletics. We have kids involved in activities all year round. If our students are engaged and involved, we see the value in that and there are a lot of ways for that to happen here.”