published Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

David Cook: The other signing day

Derquazia Smartt has seen more A's than the first 20 pages of the phone book. Teachers beg to have her in class. She can't remember the last time she made a B.

"Never,'' she said.

But on the day she announced her choice of college -- her official signing day -- only one person was there. Not a reporter, not a photographer.

"My mom,'' Smartt remembered.

In high school, Robert Parr scored more points on his ACT than the Vols scored in three different football games last season. When he accepted an offer to enroll in UT's College of Engineering -- about as easy to get into as North Korea -- Parr didn't get much ink in the press.

"Just me and my family,'' he said.

If only Parr and Smartt had been good at football.

Today is National Signing Day, a time when high school seniors announce before crowds of breathless adults the place they'll play college football.

It is pure spectacle: Something minor is given massive importance. ESPNU runs 11 straight hours of TV time, bloggers get hand cramps, while across the country, valedictorians shake their big-brained heads and say: What about us?

"It's ridiculous,'' said Smartt.

Smartt and Parr are two of our area's best and brightest. Graduating high school last year as valedictorians, Smartt (Howard High) and Parr (Cleveland) represent our most promising future, our best chance at a new America.

Yet, quite frankly Scarlett, nobody gives a ----.

"A student such as myself is lucky to get a congratulations,'' said Smartt. "It's not viewed as anything big.''

Compare that to Vonn Bell of Ridgeland High.

Bell, a teenager so fantastically good at football that he's on a first-name basis with some of the best college coaches in the nation, will choose his future college this morning.

Not sometime. Not before lunch. Not after math class. But at 10:05, to be precise. Like it's a space launch or something.

ESPN will be there. His decision will be Tweeted, messaged, reported, praised and cursed, all by 10:06.

The kid is ... a kid. A teenager. Such attention borders on neglect, a willingness to exploit and over-burden the psyches of 18-year-olds with respect deserving of heads of state, not someone still looking for a prom date.

It is also a form of academic beheading: We symbolically chop off the head -- the origin of our thoughts and words -- in order to exalt the body and athletics. The mind is discarded to celebrate the body.

Remember Smartt? She had two scholarship offers. One was academic. The other was athletic.

"I chose academics. Education comes first,'' said Smartt. She's currently majoring in Criminal Justice (thinking about a double major in English too) at Tennessee State University.

Remember Parr? He walks the Knoxville campus in the big shadow of big football players.

"We're watching them on TV,'' he said. "They're not watching us.''

Parr's solution: double-down on the way we promote academics.

"I think the hype for academics could be a lot more,'' he said.

During National Signing Day, will anyone mention GPA? ACT scores? Interpretations of "Moby Dick"? (Nick Saban, a modern-day white whale).

"It has to do with entertainment,'' said Derek Roberts, a Polk County High valedictorian who's a freshman at Vanderbilt. (Only one B in his life; seventh-grade English. "I remember it thoroughly,'' he said).

OK. Fair enough. I admit: The Sugar Bowl is more fun than the Spelling Bee. And I genuinely wish Vonn Bell the very best.

But at what point do we stop distorting our priorities just because of entertainment?

"I think sports are great entertainment, can teach valuable lessons, and can help to bind people together,'' said Andrew Peace, who graduated with a 4.24 GPA from Boyd Buchanan and is now at Vandy.

"However people should realize that sports cannot sustain a society,'' he said. "Only academics can.''

Somebody, give him some attention.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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AndrewLohr said...

Three valedictorians, a page of smarminess, and nothing about the star athlete's grades (I guess they're OK, since he's expected to get into college). Sometime this spring--no hurry--how about "Since I think academic leaders, especially those who overcome difficult circumstances, should be celebrated, here are my congratulations to the valedictorians within a 15-mile radius of TFP HQ (or as far as you have room for)," followed by names and maybe plans and a line from each, and a note of notable difficulties overcome, if any? It might even make a news story instead of a column. I'm not sure if the local homeschoolers name a valedictorian or not--we have journalists to research such things, eh?--but I'm sure some of them have earned such recognition too.

February 6, 2013 at 12:39 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Cook, read Greeson's column today if you have not already. It explains much better than I can, and a lot more polite than I would have, how this is another joke.

The paper does an excellent piece at the end of the school year with valedictorians throughout the entire readership area.

February 6, 2013 at 3:52 p.m.
Easy123 said...

LaughingBoy,

"The paper does an excellent piece at the end of the school year with valedictorians throughout the entire readership area."

If you think 2 pages in the TFP is anything close to the kind of coverage these athletes get then you're more deluded than I thought.

Our country celebrates athletes like they're gods. The coverage these high school athletes get for simply picking a college to attend is over-the-top to say the least.

February 7, 2013 at 9:04 p.m.
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