At far right is Bailey Hopkins (8), a member of the Shiloh Titans, warming up at Lenora Park Ball Field in Snellville, Ga.
D. Aileen Dodd
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Bailey Hopkins, an athlete on and off the ball field, approaches his school work with the same determination as he does a fastball with the bases loaded. He keeps his eye on the ball, relies on his training and takes a swing at an A. The 11-year-old spent the summer conditioning his mind and body traveling with the Shiloh Titans baseball team. So when classes began at Five Forks Middle School in Lawrenceville, Ga., unlike some of his peers, Bailey was ready to hit the hallways running. Even as a sixth-grader at a new school. “I want to keep my grades up not just for now, but for later,” said Bailey, who dreams of playing pro baseball. “If baseball doesn’t work out, I want to be able to have something to fall back on. Last year, I got straight A's.” The agility and endurance students learn in sports have direct ties to the classroom. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention released a study in May showing substantial evidence between physical activity and scholastic achievement. “Exercise boosts brain power,” said Dennis Docheff, president of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. “There has been some recent research done that shows that kids who are physically active on a regular basis perform better academically. To participate in sports, oftentimes it requires a certain grade-point average. It does motivate some.” The Shiloh Titans must meet behavior and grade requirements to stay active in the year-round league. “Any kid that doesn’t keep A's or B's has to answer to the coach,” said coach Brett Stovern, a founder of the Titans. “Any discipline problems at school also would cause them not to play baseball.” Getting children involved in football, cheerleading, basketball or softball may help parents mold their kids into responsible students. Juggling homework and sports builds confidence and teaches time management. Brilyn Patrick-Boyce, ranked among the top 9-year-old high jumpers and long jumpers in Georgia, won first place in finals at regionals and placed in the top 25 earlier this month at the Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympic Games in Norfolk, Va. The endurance she learned in track is helping her tackle social studies, her toughest subject at school. Track taught her that hard work pays off. “This is our first year running track,” said her mother, Keiva Patrick. "They push these kids to work. It opens your eyes.” Athletes with the Lightning Spikes Track Club begin preseason conditioning in early fall. A developmental season then runs from January to March, with weekend meets. A competitive season then runs into July, again with weekend meets. Team members at times practice four and five times a week. During the preseason Brilyn spent one hour a week training in a gym doing jumping jacks, pushing weighted balls and doing other exercises to build her strength. “When my baby started to cry the first day, I was ready to pull her out. But the other parents said to go home, soak her in some Epsom salts and she will be fine,” Patrick said. “By the end of the season, she could do five laps around the Berkmar High track.” Brilyn says she will takethe same attitude toward social studies that she displays on the track. “I like it because it makes me stronger,” she said. “I’m going to try to get an A.” Bailey, the Shiloh Titans catcher, keeps a datebook to manage his homework assignments, projects, tests and baseball practice sessions. He is taking four honors classes. “The traveling team is a huge commitment,” said Nancy Hopkins, “homework mom” for the Titans, who organizes parents to sit with kids and do homework at picnic tables before practice. “We are gone most every day of every weekend. First and foremost comes homework. Bailey knows he can’t play ball if his school work is not up to date even if it means you have to do it while we are traveling in the car or in between ballgames. He takes pride in the fact that he can juggle.” In only their second year as a team, the Titans have won five tournaments, including the 10U Grand Slam World Series Tournament in Panama City Beach, Fla., ending their season 86-11. Shannon Contic, a teacher and Titan mom, sees the impact of the victory on her son Dennis, the youngest in his class. “Since he has been on the team I have seen his confidence grow,” she said. “Confidence from the ball field translates into confidence at school. It has been a great thing for him.” Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School track star O’Neal Wanliss, 17, also is seeing an academic benefit from sports. O'Neal, who is ranked among Georgia's top runners in the 400 meters, says track helped him complete rigorous advanced placement classes. He recently finished fourth at the Junior Olympics in California. “As a natural competitor you are not going to settle for an average grade," O'Neal said. You are going to strive for something better.”