Scripps Ranch High School head football coach Marlon Gardinera said he insists that his players put academics first. (photo by Ralph LoVuolo)
Falcons football team wins in the classroom
Undefeated this season, the Scripps Ranch High School football team’s on-field success is on display for everyone to see. Less obvious, but also a source of team pride, is the team’s academic success. A recent grade check showed the team’s average GPA to be 3.71.
The high marks are the result of hard work by the student athletes and the prioritization of academic success by head football coach Marlon Gardinera.
“A high school coach doesn’t just coach football,” Gardinera said. “As a matter of fact, I think it’s about 25 percent of my job.”
Now in his third year as head coach, Gardinera played baseball at Oklahoma State and football at Mission Bay High School. He’s the father of two sons in local schools, one being Falcons running back Nicholas Gardinera. With experience as both a student athlete and a father, Gardinera said he created a “school first” policy because success in sports can be fleeting.
“Football is fun, sports are fun, but they’re temporary,” Gardinera said. “Very few people get to do them for the rest of their life, and even then, the rest of your life as a professional (football player) is, on average, five years.”
He brought that same idea to the Falcons football team.
“The goal when I got here was that I want to prepare these boys for life,” Gardinera said. “The idea was using the lessons football teaches to make sure these kids were successful on and off the field for the next step in their life, whether that’s a trade school, college or the military.
Of course, winning on the field was also important.
“I wanted to bring the academic excellence we’ve grown to love at Scripps Ranch to the football field. But the football players couldn’t suffer academically as a result of that,” he said.
Putting his ideas and ideals into motion, Gardinera started by raising the bar on the required GPA to be on the Falcons team to 3.0, higher than the CIF minimum of 2.5.
“We don’t need average,” he said. “If you have a C, any C, you don’t need to practice football; you need to practice school. And we’re serious about that.”
The other parts of the approach include mandatory study hall time, weekly grade checks by the coach and, when needed, improvement plans.
“If a kid has a C, we don’t throw them off the football team. We put together a plan immediately to get that C up,” he said. “That typically includes study hall and peer tutoring. I and other coaches will also ask, ‘Have you met with your teacher? How often?’”
Additionally, teachers pitch in to help students develop planning and notetaking skills. Sometimes students help each other, as in the case of older students who have already taken the classes and therefore know what needs to be done.
“We throw everything at it to get the kids grades up, to improve study habits and get them right,” Gardinera said.
Some players still struggle.
“When I realize or can Identify that effort is a part of it, I remove them from football,” the coach said. “Some kids are allowed to practice, but they can’t play. Some, because they’re not using their time wisely and haven’t made school a priority, they don’t need football. They need school. That’s why we’re there.”
Gardinera also meets with counselors and teachers to discusses student progress, and he’s always on the lookout for any behavioral issues that may arise.
“We tell the kids early on: if you wear our gear, if you wear that jersey on Friday, you represent us all,” he said. “Every decision you make, your choices, your behavior, it reflects on all of us, and we won’t tolerate anything but your best.”
In academic efforts, the comradery of teammates has also provided strong motivation.
“It’s the brotherhood,” the coach said. “They are their brother’s keeper and they don’t want to let each other down. They don’t want to miss out.”
Gardinera believes the work ethic instilled by high academic requirements has definitely shown on the football field, where the team has come back from a 2-8 and 6-4 records the previous year to this season’s 9-0 record.
“If you can convince a kid that school comes first, that details matter, that hard work matters, that time spent matters; if you can convince them of that, the hope, the goal, the purpose is that they transfer that work experience to everything,” he said. “As I think everybody can see right now, they’re translating doing everything right to the football field. Hard work is hard work, whether it’s football or studying for a big exam.”
The team’s success on the gridiron and in the classroom earned Gardinera Chargers Coach of the Week honors recently, which included $1,000 for the Falcons football program.
“If you’re on the right track and the culture is going in the right direction, you’re going to get better, Gardinera said. “It really just culminated all at the same time.”