An episode of ESPN's "Outside the Lines" will feature Boston English High on Sunday morning during a segment dealing with high schools that have lowered academic standards for athletes.
The show, which will air on ESPN2 at 10 a.m. and will re-air during the week on ESPN at a time to be determined, was filmed Sept. 21.
After three years of incrementally increasing its eligibility requirement for athletes up to a district-high 2.5 GPA, English High's new headmaster, Ligia B. Noriega-Murphy, lowered the standard for athletes for this school year despite the fact that a sizable portion of the school's athletes hit the 2.5 mark last year. Noriega-Murphy moved the school back to the district-wide 1.67 this fall because she said participation in athletics was too low.
ESPN reporter Paula Lavigne also interviewed officials and students at Auburn High in Rockford, Ill. that dropped its minimum eligibility requirement for student-athletes all together.
"So the overall story is about schools that are lowering their academic standards, most are GPA standards, either dropping them or lowering them, in an effort to help athletics at the school,'' Lavigne said in an interview after she filmed her interviews at English. "We chose English in large part from the pool of schools that we had heard about mostly because their change was the most recent.
"I think most of the other schools their change happened a year or two prior and this one happened this summer."
Aside from shooting footage of athletes and coaches in action on the field and in the classroom, ESPN also interviewed Noriega-Murphy and English's basketball coach and athletic director, Barry Robinson. Lavigne interviewed girls' soccer player Aida Cornier and football player Robert Winston as well.
"Oh my god it was so nerve-racking, I was like, "Oh my god, am I going to stutter or something,'' Cornier said in an off-camera interview with Boston.com moments after her interview with Lavigne. "It's a little bit surreal, definitely, I've never been on TV, I've done plays in elementary school and stuff but that's totally different."
While Cornier was interviewed because her GPA is well above a 2.5 and she thinks the 2.5 policy should've stayed in place, Winston was interviewed because he gained eligibility to play football this fall for the first time only because the standard was lowered.
After he got off camera, Winston said he was a little embarrassed that ESPN was highlighting him for his lack of performance in the classroom rather than his exploits on the field. Robinson said the 19-year-old fifth-year senior worked hard to improve his grades last year and received a MIAA waiver to play this fall the day before his ESPN interview. But he said his efforts to hit the 2.5 mark always fell short.
"That's tough, that's something I'll never forget about but I'm going to try to forget about,'' Winston said in an interview with Boston.com. "It's definitely motivation because if the 2.5 was there right now I really wouldn't be playing, I wouldn't be there right now; I'd just be on the sideline cheering on.
"Everybody is going to know that I wasn't an A student and I struggled to get my grades up but at the end of the day I got my grades up, I'm playing, I did what I had to do and now I'm going to show myself on the field and show what I'm doing."
Lavigne said she contacted every state high school athletic association in the country for her story. She said while some states mandate a minimum requirement for all student-athletes in all schools, other states don't track the schools that either lower or raise requirements for athletes.
She said the schools that lowered their standards often argued that they needed to use sports as a hook to get students into the door, precisely the carrot-and-stick philosophy that former English headmaster Sito Narcisse railed against when he implemented higher standards in 2009. Narcisse argued that lower standards encouraged student-athletes to do the bare minimum to be eligible and that low standards is like telling students they "can't do it."
"I think this issue is so much more than athletics, I think this speaks to a much bigger challenge in academics in general and I think it gets to the heart of the challenges a lot of inner-city schools face,'' Lavigne said. "It's much bigger than how many kids do you have on a field because it really speaks to, you as an educator, in a district where you are really challenged by so many factors and you're under pressure to get academic scores up, this speaks to the very heart of that.
"It's so much more complex than just sports. It's how do you motivate kids in a an inner-city school and improve their academics. And this is a tool and you can use it one of two ways and what [Robinson was] saying is "It's going to work for some students and not for others and the question is as a school what obligation do you have to the others.'''
Robinson also said the school has no plans for a watch party on Sunday morning.
"It's on a Sunday morning, not too many parties are going on at that time,'' Robinson said. "We're not going to open the school up and have three projectors down here. The focus at English High School has changed big time. We're more focused on teaching and learning and getting these kids to the standard where they can be better in the classroom and come to school on time.''
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- Justin A. Rice -- A metro Detroit native, Rice is a Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and Northeastern University graduate. Rice lives in the South End with his dog and wife, who unfortunately attended the University of Michigan ... his wife, that is. He curates the BPS Sports Blog and is always looking to write about city athletes with great stories. Have an idea? He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.
- Ryan Butler -- A Rhode Island native and avid Boston sports fan, Butler played basketball, baseball and football throughout his time in Barrington Public Schools. Now currently in his middler year at Northeastern University, he joins Boston.com as a correspondent for the site's BPS coverage. Have a story idea? Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on his Twitter @butler_globe.