Bertelkamp Center to help student-athletes with academics

Jacob Steimer

The creation of the Bertelkamp Center for Academic Excellence was announced in a ceremony at Bearden High School on Wednesday. Bert Bertelkamp, the benefactor, was a basketball player at Bearden, graduating in 1976. His jersey was retired before a Bearden game in February. His center will offer tutoring and ACT prep for student-athletes struggling with their grades. All student-athletes with a “D” or an “F” in any class, after each grading period, will be required to attend academic assistance sessions. The sessions will run Monday through Thursday from 7-8 a.m. in the learning center. After a student enters the program, he or she must attend all sessions until weekly progress reports demonstrate that the student has attained a “C” in the appropriate subjects. If an athlete fails to show up to a required session, he or she will be considered ineligible to play in an athletic contest that week. The Bertelkamp family will donate $10,000 for the 2011-12 academic year. “It is $10,000, but the first year is kind of an experiment,” said Bertelkamp, a former Tennessee basketball player and current color analyst for Vol Network broadcasts. “If it does help, we could do more. You can count on us to support [the program].” The Bertelkamp family had the original idea to do a scholarship of some type for Bearden students. Bearden principal Dr. John Bartlett and athletics director Mr. Scott Witt hashed out the details of the plan. Their idea was to have a place at Bearden to give academic assistance to student athletes like the Thornton Center at the University of Tennessee. “I liked the idea right off the bat,” Bertelkamp said. “I could have tweaked it, but [Dr. Bartlett and Mr. Witt] are the professionals.” While the idea for the center is to help out struggling student-athletes, it will be made available for any Bearden student. “We will have tutors in the center for almost any subject,” Dr. Bartlett said. “If a kid doesn’t play sports, I’m not going to deny that kid tutoring. If a kid needs tutoring and we can get them plugged in from 7-8 in the morning, then that’s what we’ll do.” Bertelkamp would have liked to have seen a program like this when he was a Bearden student. “It would have been helpful,” Bertelkamp said. “I could’ve used the help on the ACT and SAT, just learning how to take them.” This is an asset of the program that shows a lot of promise. The help with classes, though, is what Bearden’s coaches are excited about. “We’re hoping that if they fall behind, they will get tutoring,” Bearden boys basketball coach Mark Blevins said. “Not just for eligibility reasons, but for their graduation.” While volleyball coach Jennifer Allen hopes not to have too many of her athletes in the center, she is happy to have the resource available. “You do have the one or two kids,” Coach Allen said. “It keeps you up on how they’re doing. This gives them another opportunity.” Bearden is the first school in Knox County to implement such a center for their students. “We want [our athletes] to have the best education humanly possible,” Mr. Witt said. “We want to be a leader in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the Southeast.” According to Karen Carson, the vice chair of the Knox County School Board, the center also serves as a statement to the community. “What’s important is getting people in our community to realize that both athletics and academics are important,” Carson said, “and that Bearden promotes both.”