The same Minneapolis students who make shots on basketball courts and score touchdowns under Friday night lights are graduating at higher rates than the district as a whole.
Of the 666 seniors who participated in athletics last year, the Minneapolis Public Schools reported that all but seven graduated in May. That's a whopping 99 percent.
The same set of kids held an average 3.15 GPA, flipping the stereotype of a "dumb jock" on its head.
It's leagues above Minneapolis seniors' four-year graduation rate in 2015, which was 64 percent. Statewide in 2015, 82 percent of students graduated in four years.
This is the first year the district has matched student-athletes with graduation rates, said district athletic director Trent Tucker.
"Our kids are moving in the right direction, not just only on the field," said Tucker, who called the results impressive.
The academic success of student-athletes is not unique to Minneapolis. A 2014 study from the University of Kansas found that high school student-athletes in the state attended school at higher percentages, graduated at higher rates and had higher test scores than their nonathlete counterparts. The takeaways from athletics — and the task to keep up good grades — boosts students' tenacity, the study's authors said.
Tucker ticked off Minneapolis schools' athletic achievement in the past few years, including state championships for Edison High girls' track, North High School's boys' basketball and Southwest High School's Nordic ski team.
Life lessons are woven into the highs and lows of student-athletes' competitions, said Ryan Lamberty, athletic director at Southwest High School.
"When you lose, you learn discipline, you learn how to get yourself back up," he said. "When you win, you learn how to be graceful."
Shooting and scoring
The Minnesota State High School League, which oversees sports and activities throughout the state, says that student-athletes must be "making academic progress toward graduation," alongside a list that includes abstaining from tobacco and alcohol and staying in school, meaning no dropouts or grade repeats.
The Minneapolis district requires student athletes to hold a cumulative 2.0 GPA, or a 2.0 GPA for the grading period before the students participate. The district also enforces a minimum credit requirement, depending on grade level and quarter.
Sports participation is "a big boost for everything involving school," said Amy Cardarelle, Edison High School's athletic director.
"They show up, they do the work, they understand what it takes to be dedicated to both athletics and academics," she said.
Tucker credits coaches, athletic directors and teachers who are driving home the importance of education for students.
Athletics also drives home a diversity component, Tucker said. It brings together students who might hail from different parts of the city and unites them as a team.
Swimming student-athletes are smart, said Jeff Sanders, the head swim and dive coach for the boys' and girls' teams at Roosevelt, Washburn and South high schools.
He said during Saturday meets or on bus rides, kids pull open books. The junior and senior girls will lend a hand to the younger students, he said.
"They make good use of their time," he said.