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Winning Decathlon Team Faces Questions

Contest: The top scorer from the school that beat Moorpark at U.S. academic finals may have been ineligible due to poor grades.


Ryan Ramlow has a D-plus average. He also earned the distinction of top scorer in the nation at the U.S. Academic Decathlon last week, with 8,678 points.

But Ramlow shouldn't have been allowed to compete, says Moorpark High School, which narrowly lost to Ramlow's team, Waukesha West High School in Wisconsin.

At issue is whether the 17-year-old, who won several gold medals, was ineligible after his grades slipped below a threshold set by a Waukesha School District policy.

"The question is, are they going to do what's right?" said Larry Jones, a history teacher who has coached the Moorpark team on and off for nine years. "They created this policy, then they decided to ignore their own rules. Most schools don't have that luxury."

Los Angeles Times Wednesday April 24, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 2 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
Decathlon--An April 20 story on the U.S. National Academic Decathlon incorrectly characterized Moorpark High School's position over its loss to Waukesha West High School of Wisconsin. Moorpark coach Larry Jones did not protest the eligibility of a Waukesha student or his team's loss.

But the revelation apparently will not change the final outcome, a fact that has upset school officials in Moorpark. The nine decathletes on Moorpark's team finished just 579 points behind Waukesha at the finals April 11 and 12 in Phoenix.

Ramlow's mother disputed the idea that he should not have qualified for the national event, citing his 1.833 cumulative GPA, according to the Milwaukee Journal. The rules, however, are more specific.

The Wisconsin policy--common among school districts nationwide--bars students from participating in extracurricular activities or sports if their grade point average falls below 1.5 or if they earn more than one F. Eligibility, however, is determined by quarter grades.

The youth said he learned only this week that he was not eligible. He said he believed that semester marks determined whether he could remain on the team, not his quarter grades.

"I made sure I passed enough to be able to compete, and we all thought that I was qualified," he said. "Being an underachiever is kind of rough, and that's what I loved about decathlon. I got a chance to do my best."

School officials in Wisconsin did not return calls Friday.

But Molly Ritchie, director of that state's academic decathlon, said the grade policy is enforced only on sports teams, not on other extracurricular activities.

U.S. Academic Decathlon officials also knew Ramlow had a low GPA and a poor attendance record, Executive Director Les Martisko said. But because the national organization does not require students to maintain a minimum GPA or attend classes, he said there is little he can do about the situation. "We're not changing the outcome," he said.

Such explanations did not sit well with educators in Ventura County, who maintain that the debacle is sending the wrong message to kids who are involved in "aca-deca."

"It's unethical, and it goes against everything education in this country is supposed to stand for," Jones said. "It's saying if you can win, it doesn't matter how much you break the rules."

Phil Gore, who runs the Ventura County decathlon out of the superintendent of schools office, said Wisconsin and national decathlon officials should investigate the matter and, if it is determined that Ramlow was not eligible, subtract his points from the team's score.

"This does not reflect well on other academic decathletes or the program in general," Gore said. "The high school had a responsibility to hold a higher standard."

Other officials in California had different opinions. Marvin Cobb, executive director of the California Academic Decathlon, said he remains happy with his state's performance in the U.S. meet and will not appeal the results. "I think this is much ado about nothing," he said.

Decathlon teams have nine members, three with A averages, three with B and three with C averages or less. Ramlow, clearly in the latter group, nevertheless beat out all others in total points at the event.

The Wisconsin youth said that he believes the controversy lies with the district's vague policy and that the team's achievement should not be questioned.

"I feel so sad people don't think we earned this, when we worked so hard," the teenager said.

"Decathlon has made me a better person. Why anyone would want to put a bad light on that, I don't know."

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