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Holabird’s ‘Shoes for Grades’ Makes a Difference for Students

By Mary Helen Sprecher

One racquet sports equipment store has the secret of motivating teenagers to get better grades: athletic shoes.

“There’s probably no piece of clothing that means more to high school kids than those shoes,” says Doug Crusse, marketing director of Holabird Sports in Baltimore, Md. “It’s their status symbol.”

Crusse’s pilot program, Shoes For Grades, was implemented in 12 Baltimore high schools this past academic year. The plan was simple: If students could bring up their GPA by one full point during a designated grading period, they could win a free pair of name-brand athletic shoes valued up to $100. (Straight-A students could qualify by maintaining their GPA.) Crusse worked with school-system officials to identify areas where the promise of free shoes would make a difference.

In some locations, he says, “If a kid wants new shoes, it’s just a trip to the mall. But there are places where it’s not that easy. This is a way of teaching those kids, here’s what hard work can get you.”

As a result of the program, 833 students received free shoes. Holabird Sports partnered with Sports Boosters of Maryland, which raised funds, and New Balance provided discounted shoes. Among participating institutions, Dr. Samuel L. Banks High School had the most students win shoes — 151 students out of 648, or 23.3 percent of the student population.

Other Baltimore organizations showed support. Under Armour supplied each student at Banks with clothing as a reward. The Baltimore Orioles threw in a night at the ball game for the school’s entire population, “everyone from the students to the faculty to the cafeteria people,” says Crusse.

Dr. Catherine Gomes, dean of student support services at Banks, says the program raised the bar for students. “The best part was that it motivated not only the straight-A types, but the average students. They could all work for this.”

City school officials have embraced the idea as well, according to Deb Silcox, director of partnerships for Baltimore City Public Schools. “It is important that we move beyond the norm and think creatively in determining ways to motivate students,” Silcox says. “Shoes for Grades accomplishes that goal — innovative thinking with positive results.”

Crusse hopes to offer the program next year. “I think the fact that 833 students raised their grades is incredible,” he says. “For these kids to do the right thing, with the pressures they’re under these days, that’s wonderful.”

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About the Author

Mary Helen Sprecher  is the managing editor of Sports Destinations Management Magazine, a niche business-to-business publication for planners of sports travel events, in addition to being an RSI Contributing Editor. She is the technical writer for the American Sports Builders Association and works as a newspaper reporter in Baltimore City.

 

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