These scholar-athletes know how to balance academics and sports


The East Rockaway school district announced that each of the five winter varsity teams has earned Scholar-Athlete team status, and 41 athletes from those squads have been named Scholar-Athletes.

The honors come from the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, which requires student-athletes to maintain a grade point average of at least 90, and for a team to earn the title, 75 percent or more of the roster must have GPAs of at least 90. The East Rockaway High School boys’ and girls’ varsity basketball team, the cheer team and the boys’ and girls’ varsity winter track teams achieved this recognition for their outstanding academic performance.

Gary Gregory, director of physical education, health, and athletics, explained that last year, every team but one in fall, winter and spring earned this status. This year, only two fall teams were recognized as scholar-athletes, but he noted that 100 percent of the winter teams received the honor.

“I’ve been here several years, coaching the sport, and we earned scholar-athletes, but I would say these are the most responsible student athletes in the school, and they are highly academic,” Ken Anderson, coach of the boys’ and girls’ winter track, said. “So, I wasn’t surprised that they received this status, however, I was honored to find out about this.”

What helped the boys’ and girls’ track team achieve this, Anderson explained, were the open lines of communication he had with his athletes. He said athletes would let him know if they had to go for extra help or if they had a lot on their plate and could not make it to practice. This open dialogue kept the coach informed about student issues and how to work around that.

“East Rockaway has developed a culture of academics first and the extracurricular are secondary,” Cheri Poland, girls basketball coach, said. “We take that very seriously and the students know that the academics is in the forefront.”

Poland said that she allows the students flexibility if they have a test or are behind on assignments. She also offers them support or suggestions on how to balance both schoolwork and being an athlete.

Gregory said he told all the coaches that extra help is always supported and there is no penalty for a student coming to practice late because of the extra academic help.

“I think time management was a big factor in achieving this,” Kieran Lynch, boys’ track athlete, said. “Being able to both put the time to go to practices and also being able to find time to do homework.”

Nick Pollackov, a boys’ basketball player, echoed what Lynch said and noted that balancing sports and academics can be a huge stressor on the students. He said that his coach helps ease his stress by allowing him and his teammates to get extra help when they need to.

Pollackov also pointed out that some athletes are trying to balance sports with schoolwork, but also the responsibilities they have at a job. He said that some the students are helping support their families by working. The athletes wear “many hats,” Pollackov added. 

“It’s very important to learn how to prioritize your time,” Hailey Velasquez, a girls’ track athlete, said. “Sports are important, but if you have a test the next day, emailing your coach and teacher is really important to share where our priorities are.”

Gregory agreed with Valasquez and said that communication is key. He tries to instill that in the coaches so they can emphasize that to the students.

“They need to have a voice and they need to be able to communicate to the coach about needing extra help, studying, or whatever it may be,” Gregory said. “And I think that’s a good way for the lines of communication to open up, and then they feel more comfortable speaking to their coach about any other issues that may arise.”

Each of these teams and athletes will be acknowledged by the school district at the end-of-the-year awards ceremony in June.