Does a high school baseball class help students keep their grades up? Players and their coach claim it does and say the class is more than just baseball. However, the school principal has a different opinion and got rid of the class.
On Special Assignment, KRQE News 13 has both sides of the baseball debate.
Come springtime, baseball players are ready.
“What’s there not to love about the sport?” said Mario Armendariz, a Rio Grande High School junior.
Rio Grande High School’s baseball program has produced players like Ken Giles, now a World Series Champ with the Houston Astros.
Longtime Coach Orlando Griego knows how important the team is to the Rio Grande community.
“We’ve been able to produce over 140 college baseball players since 1996,” said Coach Griego. “We’ve graduated over 99 percent of our kids, and so those are things that I’m proud of.”
But this school year, he claims it’s tough to keep his players eligible, pointing to a major change in class schedules.
“It’s been difficult,” Coach Griego said.
“Well, we were panicked, we didn’t know that they were gonna take it away,” said Eliazar Torres, a Rio Grande High School senior.
Torres said he and his teammates didn’t find out until they picked up their schedules in the fall that 7th-period baseball class was gone.
So what is 7th period baseball class?
KRQE News 13 is told it’s a class during the school day dedicated to not only studying and practicing baseball, but Coach Griego says it gave him an extra opportunity to mentor students through the year and help keep their grades up.
“Seventh period does, it really does help a lot,” said Armendariz. “I mean grade issues became a problem for the baseball program, we had a few people miss out to be on this team because of grade issues.”
Rio Grande High wasn’t the only school with a baseball class. Some of the coaches in other schools swear by it.
“To be honest I don’t know how a coach could survive without it,” explained Ron Murphy, head coach at Rio Rancho High School, and President of the New Mexico Baseball Coaches Association.
“It gives me a chance to keep track of the kids all year long, their grades, if they’re getting in trouble in school, they don’t get in trouble.”
“I’d be frustrated, I’d fight it like heck, and I feel bad for Rio Grande that they lost their 7th block class,” Murphy added. “And I know it’s got to affect their kids, their coaches, and their community.”
Parents and players claim they weren’t given an explanation for the change.
However, Rio Grande Principal Amanda DeBell says it’s simple. “Quite frankly with the budget and with my graduation rate and with our scores of proficiency, I had some incredibly hard decisions to make,” DeBell told KRQE News 13.
Part of that was doing away with the three-day a week baseball class she claims had low enrollment, and instead placing athletes in an elective ‘athletic class.’
“They can get off-season training, they’re learning strength and conditioning, and the coaches still have access to those kiddos,” DeBell explained.
DeBell said Coach Griego has a personal prep period at the same time as the new athletic class, and if he wanted to, he could check in on baseball players during that time.
“So he would have to make the decision to give up his personal prep in order to do that, but during season it happens,” said DeBell.
“From my understanding, I’m not able to take those kids out of class and bring them out here,” Griego responded.
He claims the schedule change has made an impact. This season, Coach Griego said nine students who wanted to play baseball were ineligible, so with rosters running low, he has no C-team for the first time in his run at Rio Grande.
“The only thing different this year from the last 23 seasons is me not having the athletic class,” said Griego.
But the principal disputes the coach’s claims that the schedule change has impacted eligibility.
“Actually the opposite. This year we’ve had the fewest amount of students who are ineligible,” said DeBell. “I think that we didn’t have a C-team because we wanted to stack our numbers in JV and Varsity.”
The coach told KRQE News 13 he only has 30 players, which in baseball is bare-bones for two teams, so he needs all the help he can get to attract and keep players.
More than just baseball?
Parents like Michelle Lopez who’s had three boys in Rio Grande’s baseball program said she’s seen the how the baseball class helps.
“It wasn’t just practicing on the baseball field, it was a lot more than that,” Lopez said.
Lopez said the mentorship was key to her oldest son landing a college baseball scholarship.
“Coach Orlando is wonderful at making sure that those grade checks are done every couple weeks, and providing that support if they need study hall, if they need another ball player to help them with homework,” Lopez explained.
“I think building relationships, especially down here in the South Valley — checking on them on a daily basis to make sure that they’re going to class, that they’re doing their work, and they’re being held accountable,” explained Coach Griego. “The importance of that is immeasurable.”
Rio Grande HS baseball sponsor JoHanna Cox hopes the school will reinstate baseball class.
“The boys would benefit, the program would benefit, and it would be a fairly simple fix I think,” Cox said.
Cox points to the Rio Grande baseball program’s high graduation rate as part of the reason she invested as a sponsor in the first place.
However, DeBell admits her school struggles with graduation rates as a whole.
“I only have a 51 percent proficiency rate in English and it’s even less than that in mathematics, and our graduation rate is at 57 percent right now,” said DeBell.
She pointed to Monday after-school tutoring sessions available to athletes.
“We don’t make decisions arbitrarily,” DeBell said. “We look at how we make the most impact at raising our scores, and ultimately being able to get kids to that graduation finish line.”
Coaches and the school principal are well aware things will get tougher for high school student-athletes.
The New Mexico Activities Association is tightening up eligibility requirements next year. Athletes will be booted from teams for a single ‘F,’ whereas this year students are allowed one ‘F.’
Keeping kids passing and on the path to graduation is a goal everyone can agree on. Coach Griego believes bringing back the baseball class will help with that success.
“You know I’ve spent half of my lifetime essentially putting my heart and soul into this baseball program,” Griego said. “I don’t have a problem with them raising the standard, but give us the tools to succeed.”
Parents told KRQE News 13 they plan on talking about the schedule change during Wednesday’s APS school board meeting.