Wallace: Student-Athletes Held to Higher Standard

WHEELING – The case of two Steubenville High School student-athletes charged with rape has many questioning the treatment of athletes inside the classroom and within the community, but longtime school administrator Terry Wallace believes those in prep athletics are not benefiting from a so-called “free pass.”

Wallace has worked in the education field for more than 40 years, and during that time has served as an administrator in Bellaire and also in large Pennsylvania schools. He currently serves as a senior fellow at the Institute for Innovation in Education at West Liberty University.

Speaking in general terms and not specifically on the Steubenville case, Wallace talked about his experience with the treatment of student-athletes in schools. He said student-athletes are held to a higher standard than the average student, because much is expected from them on the playing field and within their community, as well as in the classroom.

“High performers, whether they’re academic or athletic, tend to be held to a somewhat higher standard in the community, because we expect them to be very good at what they do across the board,” he said. “We expect high-performing athletes to be high-performing people.”

Because of that ideal standard, any student-athlete that stumbles off the field can quickly attract the public’s attention, Wallace said.

“Athletes tend to be very visible and very vulnerable in the community,” he noted. “If you’re a high-performing athlete, and you engage in some untoward behavior, everybody’s going to know about it. And people tend to put you under a microscope.”

A few examples of notorious behavior among student-athletes can cause many to make unfair generalizations about the role of high school athletics, Wallace concluded. He said people tend to focus on the cases of prep athletes getting into trouble, rather than the positive values that sports has instilled in them.

“For every student-athlete you may be able to find who’s had a childhood problem, I can show you a lot of ones who were saved – where coaches and school officials have reached over the cliff and pulled them back. For some of them, athletics has motivated them to do better,” he said.

But teachers and coaches have only limited access to student-athletes in the classroom and on the field, Wallace said, and those lessons have a limited effect if they are not reinforced by parents in the home.

“Schools can’t raise children. Schools don’t raise children,” he said. “Parents are supposed to raise children … and that doesn’t always happen in the most positive ways.”

Community members offering praise for athletic achievements can also skew a student-athlete’s sense of values. Wallace said contemporary parenting, because of various strains placed on the home life, makes children vulnerable to those distractions now more than ever.

“Parenting is weaker today than it’s ever been,” he said. “Parents seem for whatever reason to be less equipped, and as a result, it makes it difficult for them to hold their children to high standards. And there are more environmental seductions for young people today than ever before.”