Making the grade

Competitive schedule of Winter Sports Club challenges student-athletes to keep up


— It's easy to understand why, between runs, Lisa Perricone sometimes can be found reading a book. The Alpine skier and Steamboat Springs senior said, most likely, she'll be in school for only around four or five days between now and January.

Perricone is now in Winter Park competing in a Nor Am Cup event after spending the previous week between Loveland and a ski camp at Copper Mountain. Perricone's close friends during the next few months her laptop and textbooks accompanied her on the trip.

True, Perricone's competitive schedule is much heavier than those of other local skiers, snowboarders or jumpers, but the need to balance academics and athletics isn't a problem just she and other elite racers have to face.

Many of the approximately 650 athletes involved in the Winter Sports Club this year will compete at some level during the next several months. Unlike basketball players, the young skiers don't hop on a bus, go play a game and return home the same night. Numerous Winter Sports Club athletes will be on the road, missing one or two days of school per week, competing in multiday events.

Sarah Floyd, Winter Sports Club athletics director, said the amount of class time a student could expect to miss depends on his or her age, level and discipline. Alpine skiers miss the most school because of a larger number of competitions, while younger kids won't travel as far or race as often because of their age and, often, their level.

Regardless, the days and hours add up. In some places around the country, large numbers of absences from school are not tolerated. Perricone, 17, said places in Minnesota and Wisconsin allow a student to miss 20 days before expelling him or her.

Colorado Academy, a private school in Denver, felt it was inexcusable for Kyle Ewing to miss class to ski competitively. He said it took two years of dinner conversations before his parents allowed him to attend the Lowell Whiteman School, a private institution north of Steamboat Springs where he could receive both an education and continue freestyle skiing.

Conventional wisdom says if these kids are missing this much school, they are receiving a below-average education under the eyes of seemingly disinterested administrators and teachers.

Not true.

Why do you think Hana Ilic came to Steamboat all the way from Yugoslavia?

"I really wanted to ski and compete without having problems in school," the 15-year-old said. "I'm so happy here. I haven't had any problems."

Ilic, an Alpine skier, is in the honors program at Whiteman.

Mike Whitacre is the admissions director at Whiteman. He said it's a common misconception that his school is a ski academy, but the teachers at Whiteman aren't coaches. Whiteman also has a foreign travel program for students.

"We are first and foremost a college prep school," Whitacre said. "We look like a camp from the outside, but there is a lot of structure."

Ewing said he was caught a little off guard his freshman year when he took a trip, returned and was greeted by teachers expecting completed homework. Now, he said, the adjustments have been made. He has since learned self-discipline he otherwise might not have obtained.

"The teachers here are willing to work with you," Ewing said. "I'm feeling comfortable with the schedule. Some nights, all your friends are going out, but you need to stay in and get your work done. It's just something you have to do."

On the road, Floyd said the Winter Sports Club, whose members include athletes of all ages and from all schools in Steamboat, requires one and a half hours of study time on weeknights to replace one day of missed school.

Of course, one hour doesn't replace seven hours in class, but it is a way for the Winter Sports Club to partly monitor and assist students in staying focused academically while away from home.

Gina Schopp, academic ski coordinator at Whiteman, and Deb Gerhart, the registrar at Steamboat Springs High School, serve as liaisons between their schools and the Winter Sports Club. Both said they have great relationships with the Winter Sports Club and believe the support the kids receive, particularly from the teachers, is paramount in the continued on-slope and in-class development of the student-athletes.

Schopp noted, however, that it should come as little surprise when those balancing a competitive ski schedule with classes manage to do well.

"The competitive athlete in general is driven in all they do with characteristics innately within to succeed no matter what's thrown at them," Schopp said.

During the winter, both Whiteman and the high school accommodate the skiers as best they can. Modified schedules are in place to assist students in leaving school earlier to train, and both schools allow skiers to lighten their class load during the winter months. Full courseloads are taken at the beginning and end of each school year in Steamboat. At Whiteman, the courses students dropped in late November are picked back up in April in seminar form as they go to each for two hours a day, Schopp said.

Of course, all of this is based around the notion that the skier, snowboarder or jumper is eligible.

If for some reason an athlete is ineligible, it is his or her responsibility to rectify the problem, but all parties involved try to provide the student with assistance, be it less training time or advice on time management.

Gerhart is involved with the Winter Sports Club at two levels: one as an administrator of sorts at the high school and the other as a parent. Her oldest son, Nathan Gerhart, is on the U.S. Nordic Combined Team, and she said it took some reassuring that her son would be able to balance both school and skiing and be allowed, too.

It's clear, she said: Goal setting is a must for the kids, as well as organization and a lot of hard work.

Perricone has proved to be a poster child for success.

She had a 4.2 grade point average during her first quarter this fall, but she said her grades often dip during this time, coming down to around 3.4. Clearly, that's above the problem line.

She wants to go to college, likely to ski, but she may take a year off to focus exclusively on her skiing. Either way, she's thankful for the opportunities living in Steamboat have presented her.

"You'll always have things in life you'll have to balance," Perricone said.

And that's coming from a 17-year-old.

"The kids have respect and appreciation for what they are able to do," Floyd said. "There are few places in the world like this."


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.