A new policy awarding jacket letters to high school scholars as well as athletes is earning an "F" grade from athletic boosters who complain it devalues the teenage status symbol.

The large cloth letters, which traditionally are granted to a school's top athletes and worn proudly on a jacket, were awarded last week for the first time to 210 Yuba City High School students who earned a 3.5 grade point average or better on a scale of 4 points.The scholars' letters are nearly identical to those given to more than 200 members of the school's sports teams but are emblazoned with the word "Academics" instead of an emblem of a football, basketball or other sports insignia.

Parents of athletes at the school are in an uproar over the new policy, and some wrote a letter to the school board urging it to halt the practice.

"To now award essentially the same award to non-athletes is a serious departure from tradition and dilutes the significance of the award," wrote Don Blaser, president of the Honker Club, a booster for the school's sports teams.

"While the Honker Club always supports any incentives academically or athletically, we feel strongly that the (letter) is one which should be reserved for athletics," Blaser wrote.

Opinions on the issue were split among scholars and athletes on the 2,100-student campus. Tiffany Smith, 18, who won an academics letter, said the awards could add prestige to scholastic achievement.

"School is for education. Sports are like a sideline," Smith said.

But Jay Stevenson, 17, who earned a sports letter on the golf team, said, "I think (scholars) should have something different, a different kind of letter."

Principal Martha Bunce, who originated the policy, applauded a decision by the school board to stick with the program despite a protest petition signed by about 50 current and former athletes.

"I can understand some people are upset, but I really think it is the appropriate thing to do," she said.