Tutoring priceless for college athletes

Q: I'm amazed that some of the high-school athletes I've seen over the years survive academically in college. How does this happen?

A: Tutoring. One of the true hidden benefits of an athletic scholarship is access to crackerjack tutors who know how to get jocks through classes. A kid on an athletic scholarship at a Division I school not only gets a free educational opportunity, he or she is taught study skills and gets quality help.

Athletes also have assistant coaches monitoring their academic progress and cracking the whip when necessary. No football player in his right mind wants his position coach in his face screaming, "What do you mean you haven't started that term paper?"

In some cases, tutors help turn athletes on to learning and develop hidden academic abilities that had gone undiscovered because of crummy high schools, homes without books or myriad other socioeconomic problems that can include the wrong set of friends.

My favorite story is of former Washington State football player Eboni Wilson from Los Angeles. The former special-ed student in junior high entered WSU as a Prop 48 player (academic partial qualifier) and left as a Ph.D.

It isn't just borderline student-athletes who use tutors. Some liberal-arts whizzes ask for help in math and sciences.

Of course, any system can be abused. There have been "tutor scandals" at places such as Minnesota, where tutors wrote papers for basketball players.

Even with plenty of aboveboard help, some athletes flunk out.

As Barry Switzer, former Oklahoma football coach, once said of a player: "It was like a heart transplant. We tried to implant college, but his head rejected it."

Q: The Rainier Beach boys basketball team was ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today earlier this season. What teams from Washington have finished in the top 25 in USA Today's season-ending football and basketball rankings since they started in the fall of 1982?

A: Boys basketball — No. 5, Sehome (30-0), 1996; No. 7, Rainier Beach (28-1), 2002; No. 11, Mercer Island (28-1), 1985; No. 12, Juanita (26-2), 1984; No. 21, O'Dea (29-0), 1997; No. 21, Garfield (28-1), 1991; No. 22, Garfield (24-3), 1986; No. 23, Mercer Island (27-3), 1999.

Girls basketball — No. 12, Lakeside (29-0), 1994; No. 19, Mead (27-2), 1992; No. 25, Auburn (26-2), 1992.

Football — No. 6, Juanita (13-0), 1985; No. 7, Gonzaga Prep (12-0), 1986; No. 9, Juanita (13-0), 1984; No. 12, Newport (13-0), 1992; No. 21, O'Dea (13-0), 1995; No. 23, South Kitsap (13-0), 1994; No. 25, Gonzaga Prep (11-2), 1982.

Q: My sons weigh less than 230 pounds and wrestle in the division that goes from 216 pounds to 275. A lot of monsters wind up on top of them. They get rib injuries and I worry about their "insides." Any chance of a new weight division?

A: Don't hold your breath. The state follows the national high-school federation weight classifications and nothing is planned. Jim Meyerhoff of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association says he when hears coaches talking about adding a weight division, it is somewhere between 171 and 189 pounds.

Q: I was watching LeBron James, the Ohio prep phenom, on national TV when his team played Oak Hill of Virginia and the players had to cover up their tattoos. What are the rules in Washington regarding jewelry and tattoos? What do you think of tattoos?

A: Players don't have to cover up tattoos in Washington. They do have to remove jewelry. The only tattoos I like are "Mom" tattoos on homesick sailors who find themselves south of the equator at Christmas.

Q: A writer in Spokane says the MVP award in the state basketball tournaments should go to someone off the championship team. You agree?

A: No. This is the same argument that we just recently went through with the American League MVP award. Alex Rodriguez of the Texas Rangers had the best season but was on the last-place team. So is it "most valuable" or "best?"

Frankly, I'm inclined to vote "best." My first consideration is whether someone on the title team deserves the MVP award, but if a kid on another team plays lights-out and is the reason that his team reaches the title game or finishes high, then they get my vote.

Q: Have you ever "fudged" in your coverage of high-school sports?

A: Yes. More than 20 years ago a nice guy named Craig Smith (no relation) played basketball for Everett High School. He never had to do much to get mentioned in my game stories. Years later, he told me how he stepped out of the way of a pass one night so it would hit a mouthy opponent cheerleader who was getting on his nerves.

Another time, my basketball box score didn't add up and I had some extra points. I gave them to a shirttail relative who played for Mount Rainier. I never have met the guy but I chatted with his father that day. If the fellow is wondering where those extra points came from, now he knows.

Have a question about high-school sports? Craig Smith will find the answer every Tuesday in The Times. Ask your question in one of the following ways: Voice mail (206-464-8279), snail mail (Craig Smith, Seattle Times Sports, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111), or e-mail csmith@seattletimes.com.