Emphasis is usually confined to the athlete part of the equation, with lip service paid to the student part.
However, at Portageville High School, education is not tossed out so arbitrarily and is indeed the cornerstone of the athletic department.
Along with Portageville's numerous state and district titles displayed in the rafters of the gym, a separate display honors the previous valedictorians of the school. Portageville's dedication to academics is in full view of anyone who walks through the doors of the gym.
Numerous former athletes have been leaders in the classroom at Portageville. Top notch achievement by their student-athletes is not a rare occurrence.
The Portageville Lady Bulldogs basketball team has taken academic achievement to new heights. The starting five for the Lady Bulldogs, all have a 4.0 grade point average and are all at the top in their respective classes.
Senior Liza Wilson, juniors Hannah Rone, Deanna Deere and Lauren Kellams, with sophomore Kellye Penn, all started for Portageville during the regular season and are a special group of girls according to head coach Eric Ellerbrook.
"Each of those individual girls work extremely hard to get to the point they are at," said Ellerbrook. "Whether it be in the classroom or on the court, they all put out 100 percent effort. Everyone is just a leader on our team, on and off the court. The rest of the team looks up to them, because you can't find a better role model than those girls."
The time management involved to keep up their play and academics is a huge task for the girls. Because besides play on the basketball team; Rone, Deere, Kellams and Penn are three-sport athletes competing in volleyball and softball. Sports is a year-round activity for the girls. With a full load of classes, extracurricular activities and two to three hours of practice after school, how do the girls do it all?
Wilson, the lone senior, declares it is not easy.
"With our schedules being so busy as they are," said Wilson, "managing your time is the top priority. Games and homework is our life throughout the school year, along with practices. Get home late from practice and you're tired, but you have to discipline yourself to know what your priorities are."
Wilson credits her fellow teammates who have a regular study group to help in the academic department.
"We all are friends and help each other out any way we can," said Wilson. "We quiz each other and study for tests together."
When asked about down-time and television, Wilson replied with amusement, "what T.V.?"
Wilson relayed that there is little time for television in their busy schedules.
"The girls are always trying to get the better grade," said Ellerbrook. "The three juniors are especially competitive because they're in the same class, so it is kind of 'anything you can do, I can do better.' All of our sophomores on the team are in the top 10 of the class. The girls work extremely hard."
Rone offered much of the same advice as Wilson on using time wisely.
"Of course you study hard in school," said Rone, "but I think the key to success is time management at home. Don't go home and just lay around, they call it homework for a reason."
Some say that the smart kids on a team are usually the ones on the end of the bench, helping boost the team GPA. Not so in Portageville. Rone had an outstanding season this year for the Lady Bulldogs on the hardwood.
Rone averaged 15 points, seven rebounds and five steals per game this season, making second team all-region in Class 3.
Unassuming and the quiet one of the group, Rone usually lets her grades and play on the floor speak volumes. Rone did acknowledge that without her teammates, it would be more difficult for her to reach the status she has achieved.
"All us juniors (Deere and Kellams) are in the same classes together," said Rone. "We help each other out and it does make it a lot easier with everything."
Deere agrees that time management is very important for a high school athlete.
"We all have to find the right amount time to get our studies complete," said Deere. "Our teachers understand that we have games and sometimes we get back late, so they might move a test around to help out. Our teachers work well with us and it helps out a bunch."
Ellerbrook pointed out that all teams at Portageville stress academics as first priority.
"All coaches here at Portageville try and stress to the athletes how important studies are," said Ellerbrook. "With my girls, they already understand that point. You don't have to beat it into their heads. They know that academics comes first and sports later. The girls are mature beyond their years and I don't worry about them getting into any trouble or nothing. Just solid girls all around."
Ranking priorities are hard for young adults to accomplish. With so many distractions for youngsters today, too many devices can interfere with productivity.
For Kellams, sleep is often sacrificed for studies.
"We have a full schedule during the week," said Kellams. "With practice lasting as long as they do sometimes, we often study late in the night. You can sleep during the weekends."
Ellerbrook maintains that focus is not a problem for these girls.
"Some teams I have had," said Ellerbrook, "I find myself repeating over and over the same instructions. It takes away from the practice. These girls are so focused when they step on the floor, it just makes my job so much easier. Tell them once what needs to be done and they apply it immediately. It is one and done with instruction. Makes it less stressful. Good environment for learning, that the girls make possible."
The youngest of the group, Penn seems to be the most outgoing. Though only a sophomore, Penn displays a maturity beyond her years.
"We all are competitive, no matter what we are doing," said Penn. "Constant pressure with the games and our studies. We all want to be the best we can be. We are dedicated to both sports and academics. It is just a desire in all of us. You have to have heart to accomplish some of the things we have. I am proud of what we have going here."
The city of Portageville should be proud of these girls and how they are representing their town and school.
"This is my second year coaching the girls basketball team," said Ellerbrook. "They all are special girls and the community should realize the amount of work they all put in to be successful. What these girls have accomplished so far, just shows what kind of heart and drive they have. They definitely see the big picture in life."
A commitment to excellence, has long been the credo of the Oakland Raiders. Down in Portageville, the commitment is to school and to each other. You will not see many Lady Bulldogs playing at the big Division I schools. It won't bother them however, they understand life has many possibilities besides sports.
"Each of these girls is going to be successful," said Ellerbrook. "No matter what they decide to do in life, they are going to excel. It has truly been a pleasure to just be around these girls."
In a small town, five ladies are doing very big things.