An article in the Feb. 1 edition of the Peabody Gazette-Bulletin misstated several facts about Peabody-Burns High School alumna and Wichita State University student Lauren Pickens and difficulties she faced in joining the WSU track and field team. Neither she nor her parents, Darren and Tammy Pickens, were contacted in the weeks before the story was published, and they declined to comment when they were contacted in summer 2011.
Darren and Tammy Pickens sent a letter in response to the article to reporter Ben Kleine.
The article reported that Lauren Pickens qualified as a scholar athlete at WSU with a 3.2 grade point average her first semester. That is the minimum standard for a scholar athlete. In the letter, the Pickenses said their daughter’s grades were significantly above that minimum — a 3.56 GPA, indicating more “A” grades than “B”s. She satisfied the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s eligibility requirements, and is currently on the track team and practicing daily.
Additionally, the Pickenses said the article incorrectly stated the cause of their daughter’s decision to red shirt her indoor season and compete unattached.
“This decision has nothing to do with an ankle injury,” they said. “In October, she was hospitalized for almost six weeks her freshman fall semester at WSU with a rare infection. It left her with left-side weakness and severe migraine headaches. Lauren began suffering seizures after returning to WSU. She is currently on her third medicine to try and control her seizures, trying to find one that works completely.”
They wrote that an article that educated everyone with an interest about NCAA Eligibility Guidelines would have been great, but that it was inappropriate to bring their 19-year-old daughter into the story.
“As a family, we made a personal decision not to comment on Lauren Pickens’ difficulties to achieve her NCAA Division I track scholarship,” they said. “Only family and extremely close friends knew of her silent battle to achieve eligibility through the NCAA.”
They said their daughter knew from the time she was a high school freshman that she wanted to be a Division I athlete and made a good-faith effort to meet eligibility requirements and only took classes USD 398 indicated were approved through the NCAA.
“Each of those classes was and is still listed on the NCAA website as Peabody-Burns eligible,” they said. “USD 398 had previously given NCAA information needed to make them acceptable.”
But in a phone conversation Monday, Tammy Pickens said that just because a class is listed, doesn’t mean the NCAA has the latest information about the district’s curriculum, textbooks, or teachers. Some courses listed at the NCAA’s eligibility website page for PBHS aren’t even offered anymore, she said.
The Pickenses said the district’s new policy of providing pamphlets about NCAA criteria to the parents of all student-athletes doesn’t correct the district’s responsibility of ensuring a proper curriculum for future athletes.
“Why wouldn’t PBHS’ curriculum already be approved so it’s never an issue for any student?” they asked.
“Every school district in our county is represented by a current athlete playing at the Division I level at this time. Is it harder for USD 398 than anyone else?” they asked.
In a phone conversation Monday, Tammy Pickens said Lauren Pickens isn’t the only recent PBHS graduate who found out after graduation that their high school efforts weren’t enough to earn NCAA eligibility.
After seeing the academic issues brought to light in the eligibility process, the couple transferred their remaining school-age children to other districts.
But they said they feel children in USD 398 have some very caring teachers and staff members.
“Both Darren and I graduated from USD 398,” Tammy Pickens said. “We have lots of pride for our community. Our community is filled with wonderful people and children. It is not our intent to make anyone look bad. Our district does have many incredibly talented teachers and staff.”
Additionally, PBHS Principal Tim Robertson was only identified as Robertson in the story, without mention of his first name or title.
The Pickenses’ letter criticized Robertson’s participation in the Feb. 1 story after he said he couldn’t speak about specifics because of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.
“In other USD 398 personnel matters involving administrative personnel recently, they were given the common decency for a “no comment” from the USD 398 school board president and members,” they said.
The Pickenses said they would encourage anyone interested in learning more about NCAA eligibility to go to http://www.eligibilitycenter.org.
To learn about a specific high school’s status, visitors can click on “NCAA College-Bound Student-Athletes,” followed by “Resources” in the upper right of the page. Clicking “U.S. Students” then “List of NCAA Courses” will bring visitors to a page where they can search for information about specific schools. The CEEB/ACT Code for the PBHS is 172370.
The page for PBHS carries the following additional information: “This school/program has withdrawn its nontraditional courses from the high school review process. Therefore, nontraditional coursework from this school/program cannot be used in the initial-eligibility certification process.”
The website also has a disclaimer that it is only a guideline and the eligibility of each prospective student-athlete is determined on a case-by-case basis.