Lady Braves clinch high academic honor


A banner hanging inside the Tomales High School gym will soon celebrate the sterling academic and athletic achievements of seven basketball players. The young women of last year’s Lady Braves basketball team received a California Interscholastic Federation State Academic Team Championship for having the second highest collective GPA—3.98—in the state, and the highest GPA of any California girls basketball team. “The team had a good performance, [and] they weren’t just good academically: they made the playoffs,” said Dominic Sacheli, a math teacher at Tomales High and the school’s athletic director. “But to have that honor is a little mind-boggling. It’s almost unreal.” Russ Sartori coaches the Lady Braves and has a daughter, Isabel, on the team. “They never missed a practice, never missed a game. Just a wonderful group of young ladies,” he said. He tipped his hat to the players’ parents, grandparents and teachers. “Our teams have won academic awards, but never anything like this,” Adam Jennings, principal of Tomales High, said. Mr. Jennings gave much of the credit to the school’s coaches, including Mr. Sartori. “Our coaches have a good understanding that sports and academics are part of their education,” he said. “I’ve worked at big athletic schools in the past and coaches expect their kids to figure out academics outside of practice time. There’s a lot more emphasis [here] on doing well in school and taking time away from practice to do well in school.” Both Mr. Jennings and Mr. Sacheli attributed part of the scholar-athletes’ ability to balance school and sports to the school’s Academic Wednesday Program. The program, which was started six years ago, buys students additional study time by having another school bus leave at 5:15 p.m. in addition to the normal 3 p.m. departure. During the extra hours, teachers hold office hours and students can come by for tutoring or to make up exams they may have failed or missed. “With our coaches, that could be an area of rub because coaches usually start practice at 3, but coaches will start at 4 or 5 that day, push time back to allow kids to participate in the program,” Mr. Jennings said.  Lauren Nunes, a member of last year’s team and an incoming freshman at Cal Poly who plans to major in sociology, said that balancing her academic and athletic workload was “definitely challenging.” Her teachers and Mr. Sartori were always understanding and empathetic about the students’ need to strike that balance, she said. Ms. Nunes said that Academic Wednesdays were a huge help to her and her teammates. Especially since athletes inevitably miss class for away games, having hours reserved for study or tutoring served as a way for the players to catch up. She also stressed that her teammates, a small coterie in a school of less than 200 students, continually supported and pushed each other, enabling the team as a whole to succeed. “We’re competitive and tight-knit, and that motivates us to push ourselves and each other to keep doing better, and keep our grades up and keep our performance up on the court,” she said.