Concerns that last year’s move to eliminate the requirement that students have a 2.0 Grade Point Average to participate in sports at Evanston Township High School would lower the bar for student achievement appear to be unwarranted.

A report on student athletes presented to the District 202 School Board on Jan. 14 showed that during the 2017-18 school year, student-athletes continued to get higher grades than non-athletes, earning a record 3.71 GPA.

The data show that students in athletics do better in school, said Chris Livatino, ETHS athletic director. “I feel sports can be an academic intervention. When we get rid of barriers we achieve more.” 

During the first and second semester of the 2017-18 school year, student-athletes achieved .68 and .75 higher GPAs than those students not involved in sports. Across every racial sub-group except one (American Indian or Alaska Native), students who participated in athletics earned significantly higher semester and cumulative GPAs than students not involved in athletics.

According to the report, the average second semester GPA for Latino student-athletes was 0.91 higher than Latino students not involved in athletics.

That same differential was 0.65 higher for Black student-athletes versus Black students not involved in athletics. White student-athletes earned 0.48 higher second semester GPAs relative to White students not involved in sports.

District 202 Board member Pat Munsell asked about academic support.

“We created a watch list for those below 2.0,” said Mr. Livatino. All athletes have weekly grade checks and those with Ds must attend academic support sessions.

Before the new policy, said Mr. Livatino, students became ineligible if they had two Ds and were out for the season.

“There was no urgency to turn around their grades. We are making good strides in directing and taking advantage of existing structures and supports to help kids who are struggling,” he said. 

Participation numbers are up as well. Last year the number of students playing sports reached an all-time high of 1,373, increasing 4.8% in one year and 11.1% over the past two years.

Female participation increased 2.8% in one year and 12.4% over the past two years, and seasonal participation rates for Latinx students increased 20.5% since last year.

Numbers also point to greater participation in multiple sports with seasonal participation numbers increasing 7.3% from 1,923 to 2,062 participants, a 15.1% increase over the past two years.

Board member Mark Metz said the trend is going the other way to one-sport  specialization overtaking multi-sport participation.

“I challenge you to sit down with people to make a plan to buck this trend. It’s not going to change overnight,” he said. 

“It must be part of the culture of the community,” said Mr. Livatino.  It is in the best financial interest of some sports programs to keep kids playing year-round, he said. 

The Wildkits also had a great year athletically. Mr. Livatino highlighted Boys Swimming & Diving, which won the first-ever IHSA Combined State Championship and finished 14th overall at the IHSA State Finals thanks to Harel Anolick and Trevor Nelson capturing 2nd and 4th place in diving. Aidan Dillon finished 8th in the 500 Free and Aaron Holzmueller finished 3rd in the 50, 100, 200 Free and 100 Breast stroke for Swimmers with Disabilities.

“A lot of different sports achieved success,” said Mr. Livatino. 

He also highlighted ETHS efforts to “build bridges.”

Through events like a multi-sport challenge, the high school is reaching out to middle school students to expose them to athletics.

KITS2COLLEGE effort continues to help student-athletes navigate the college recruiting process. Fifty-one senior student-athletes indicated they are planning to continue playing their sport in college this coming school year, bringing the total to 150 during the last three years.

Mr. Livatino also mentioned the ETHS-Northwestern University partnership which, among other things, allowed NU to rent ETHS gym space, providing funds for a new video board in Beardsley Gym. 

Looking ahead, one area of focus is increasing participation of Black students in traditionally White sports. No specific sports were mentioned.

“How do you do that, do you have any suggestions?” asked Board President Pat Savage-Williams. 

One barrier is cost in youth sports.

 “If you’re not playing since age 4and show up at ETHS or a strong program, you’ll get cut or experience failure that will make you not want to particulate,” Mr. Livatino said.

Kids need to be encouraged to  “play earlier so they’re more comfortable playing when they get here.”  He cited Girls Play Sports as a good model that promotes early opportunities.  Transportation is another big barrier, he added, as well as conflicts with work schedules. 

“Not everyone sees the relevance of sports,” said Mr. Livatino. “Some see it just as a hobby and don’t see how it leads to success. We need more education on the connection to school and academic.”