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Academic excellence before games begin
SHS Football 2015 copy
The state championship football team from Sierra High. - photo by Photo by

On the basketball court, on softball mound, and on the football field, Manteca Unified School District has had significant success. This success focuses a lot of attention on athletics, but these student athletes are just as impressive in the classroom.
Bill Slikker, the Manteca High School Athletic Director, believes, “Going to block schedule has made a big difference for us. There are less transitions, and students are able to focus more in the classroom.”
Brett Lewis, the varsity basketball coach and a teacher on campus, added, “Block scheduling helped them out with a couple of extra classes. We had a cross fit class on campus that eleven of our basketball players took first semester. They were pushed to new limits every day.”
“We adjust our varsity practice schedules to 5 p.m. somedays or at 7 p.m. so that they have time to go to tutoring and to get homework done,” said Slikker.
These changes helped the Manteca High Boys Basketball Team make district history this year, for the first time winning the Division III CIF State Championship. More importantly, they have a team GPA of 3.47, with two Valley Oak League (VOL) Scholar athletes leading the way.
“We run an after school tutoring program with MHS teachers present to assist. We also encourage our stronger academic students to go and tutor their teammates, because they have greater rapport with their fellow students,” said Slikker. “That has been pretty successful for us.”
“A lot of them work together. I see them working on the bus,” said Lewis. “I have witnessed them helping each other out with their math. A few of our guys even tutor the younger kids through Give Every Child a Chance (GECAC).”
Five MHS Basketball players are also on the Link Crew and two are in student government.
“We are really big on trying to make sure we get our coaches on campus as a teacher and a coach. If we don’t have that, we really want somebody who is an alumnus if possible, to keep that buffalo tradition going,” explained Slikker.
When the coach is also a teacher on campus, there are some unique opportunities to connect. “Mr. Lewis’s room is conducive to that. He teaches a Special Day Class (SDC), so we have a side access where there is a big table kids can use,” said Slikker. “They are a tight knit little family. It’s very rare that you have a group that is successful on the court as well as in the classroom like that.”
At the core of it all, maybe their main motivation is simply their life goals. Lewis explains, “I think we have a group of kids who are really motivated to get to college or be really successful in life. We have a lot of guys who take their grades seriously.”

East Union High
softball has 3.5 GPA
At East Union, student athletes rule the softball field.
The East Union High School Softball Varsity Team has a team GPA of 3.5— at the level of the High Honor Roll. As this amazing team won the Valley Oak League Championship, the Sac-Joaquin Division III Section Championship, and the Cal-Hi Sports Division III State Championship, four of their seniors were also busy earning softball scholarships in the classroom.
J. J. Ramirez, the East Union Athletic Director, shared, “Our coaches make sure that the student athlete is first a student. Softball coaches have their own tutoring session, normally right after practice. Players help each other depending on the subject. Players who are very good at AP History or Science help the others.”
“Our softball coaches like our players going to practice, but will hold team study hall until grades are up to par,” explained Ramirez. “Our coach requires them to be at a 2.5 for them to get on the field. So, we raise the bar a little bit and the girls know that. Our girls respond to it in a very positive way. A few of these softball athletes also play volleyball.”
“We honor our VOL scholars every time that we have a sports social. It is a great feat to consistently practice two hours a day and then go home and do four hours of homework.”
“For the first time this year, we will give another award to those 150-200 athletes who participated in more than one sport,” said Ramirez. “Our highest athletic honor at East Union — and one that students rarely earn—is the Golden Order of the Lance for playing five sports in two years.”

Sierra High pushes
for academic success
At Sierra High school, they also celebrate students through very high profile awards. “We do offer the Valley Oak League (VOL) Scholar Athlete patch. The Student can win that award up to three times a year for a 3.7 or higher GPA,” said Anthony Chapman, Sierra High School’s Athletic Director.
In 2015, the Sierra High School Football Team won the CIF State Division IV Championship. With their much larger team roster of 51 students, these athletes still achieved a 2.971 GPA average with 6 VOL Scholars leading the way.
“We play in a very difficult league. Out of the Valley Oak League, there were three schools who played for section championships, two of them were crowned section champions, and two out of the eight schools won state championships this year in different divisions,” explained Chapman. “So, it is a very competitive league. We peaked at the right time and we were able to make it all the way.”
Sierra High School’s success in 2015 is significant as they are the first school in the modern history of the Valley Oak League who won a league championship in the three big sports of football, baseball, and basketball — all in the same academic year.
But how did they produce a team with those six VOL scholars?
Helping these students achieve in the classroom can require some flexibility. “They are student athletes, not just athletes. There is a formal tutoring schedule,” said Chapman. “We allow those kids who need it to go and get help when they deem it necessary, even if this means that an athlete is late to practice.”

Students come first,
athletes comes second
“When it comes to academics, coaches always stress the importance of the word ‘student-athlete.’ I am not an ‘athlete-student,’ Student comes first, athlete comes second,” said junior, Jesse Babauta, who plays both baseball and football.
“In football, our head coach has mandatory grade checks and study hall. If an athlete is not doing his job in the classroom, he is not going to get opportunities on Friday nights,” said Babauta. “This motivates us to do better in school.”
“The AP students take certain classes together and will often times help the younger students,” explains Chapman. “It isn’t something that we formally document, but is definitely part of our culture.”
“I don’t know of any sport in high school that can succeed and win with only one person. My job as a scholar-athlete involves making sure my teammates get their work done as well,” emphasized Babauta. “My friends know that I can help or tutor them. I am always happy to do it. I believe helping each other in the classroom will lead to a stronger, more reliable bond on the field.”
This year at Weston Ranch High School, their Varsity Boys’ Basketball and Soccer Teams each won the Division III CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Championships. These scholar athletes have a 3.1 and a 3.25 team GPA respectively — way above the required 2.0 GPA for a student to participate in sports.
Craig Bingham, the Athletic Director at Weston Ranch High School is new to the job this year. “I inherited an amazing group of athletes. Three of our basketball players have signed to go and play college basketball. One of our football players will be playing for UC Davis. We have a softball player who is going to play at UC Northridge. We have four soccer players who are also signed to go play at the college level. I’ve never been associated with a school that has so many college athletes. Nine athletes so far have either full or partial scholarships.”
“They cannot do that unless they have the encouragement do well on their SATs, ACTs, and of course they must have the higher GPA,” said Bingham. 
The players take an active role in encouraging each other. “The teams hold each other accountable because they don’t want to lose anybody,” said Bingham. “They have to be there to help the team. It’s remarkable how often they are out there with their books studying together.”
Because there is only so much daylight, the soccer team typically practices first and does their homework afterwards. The varsity basketball team, however, holds their practice from 7 to 9 PM. “The intent is for them to go home, get their studies done, and then come and practice. Our culture is to put school work first.”
“Some of these athletes participate in two, three, or even four sports in a single year,” said Bingham. “Anyone who can do that and still maintain a 3.0 or better GPA is amazing.”