Last bastion of amateurism
While some might debate the correlation between athletic/activity participation and academic performance, there is a more basic layer in play: participants stay in school at a much greater rate than those who don't.
"I always encourage young people to get involved with something in high school, whether it's sports or government or being a stagehand for the play," Hopkins said. "Engaging in an activity makes for a better overall high school experience. It keeps kids involved, and that's a good thing."
According to the study commissioned by the NCHSAA, the mean dropout rate of student-athletes was 0.6 percent, compared to 10.32 for non-participants. That corresponded to a mean graduation rate of 99.4 percent for athletes as opposed to 93.5 percent for their non-athlete counterparts.
Those figures are not lost on the business community, as a more-educated population translates into a more attractive workforce. On-the-field participation equates to production and a healthy bottom line for all involved.
So, major corporations, with the help of top professional athletes, also are communicating the message about the importance of high school overall.
For instance, State Farm recently announced a new initiative, 26Seconds (Facebook.com/26seconds
). The company also is a sponsor of Grad Nation, which is part of America's Promise Alliance
, a movement to end the dropout crisis.
The 26Seconds program is named after a sobering statistic: in the United States a kid drops out of high school every 26 seconds, for more than 1 million dropouts a year. The spokesperson for the campaign in the promotional video is none other than NBA superstar LeBron James.
That the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player believes enough in the issue to be involved highlights the importance of it.
"I'm glad (LeBron) did it," Hopkins said. "He's one of ours. We can claim him. That's one thing we can say he did really well is high school participation. He didn't go to college."
Hopkins also applauded the efforts by major companies to get involved with the high school experience.
"We are the last bastion of amateurism; this is untapped territory," Hopkins said. "Corporate America is starting to figure that out. If you can crack the code on how to get into the high school market, you can make an impact in a lot of areas. It's an investment in our kids."Schools also tout advantages
School districts continue to link athletic participation and academic performance, and the findings are similar to those of the North Carolina study more than 10 years ago.
Most recently, the Los Angeles Unified School District generated a report that indicates athletes missed less school and had higher grade-point averages than non-athletes. As reported by the Los Angeles Times on June 9, the LAUSD has nearly 35,000 students participating in athletics. The new findings showed that athletes attended school 21 more days and had up to a .74 higher GPA than their non-athlete counterparts.
The Times reported that Barbara Fiege, the commissioner of athletics for the LAUSD, reasoned in a memo that the findings "prove what has generally been assumed, that participation in high school athletics, on average, positively enhances the student's academic progress in comparison with the rest of the student body."
Fiege went a step farther with her conclusion, highlighting another factor that always has figured into the final equation between the studied participation and performance combination – the role of the coach.
"I believe that a large part of this is due to the intervention and guidance provided daily by qualified coaches, who understand the relationship between academic and athletic success."
In the case of Qualls at Casa Grande, he sure received that with Herzog. The two have grown quite close in a single season.
"I can tell him anything and I pretty much have," Qualls said. "He's always there for me. So have a lot of people for me."
To reach and succeed at the next level, Qualls needs to continue to improve in the classroom, though he recently scored just less than 1,000 on his SAT. His versatility on the field is not surpassed at this level for a player his size. Most see him as a defensive lineman though many are recruiting him as a fullback.
Those position uncertainties matter little to Qualls. He's come too far, too fast to sweat the little stuff.
"No matter what, it's going to be a tough road," Qualls said. "But considering how far I've come and where I came from, I'm not afraid. I'm looking forward to every challenge." Senior writer Gerry Valerio contributed to this report.