Don't let sports get in the way of academics or civics
Crunch Time - Sports should be the exception, not the focus
Last updated 3/21/2019 at 5pm
So, I was cruising the Internet and came across a 2013 article from The Atlantic magazine, “The case against high school sports.”
Search for it, it’s a valuable read.
We are regularly told that sports are good for young people. It teaches things like resilience, sportsmanship; it toughens kids to the realities of the world beyond high school. Or so the argument goes anyway.
Prep sports are huge, bigger than I was aware until I started covering it as a reporter. The sheer logistical organization required by schools is alone an impressive feat.
One of the first things I noticed as I tried to fathom the statistics of prep sports was the number of monetized websites that cater to “reporting” on the subject, some more legitimate — and accurate — than others.
One of these websites in particular immediately bombards users upon access with loud, unsolicited audio-video advertising. Money, money, money.
Sports today, at any level it seems, equals money, whether it’s in the open, as with professional sports, or more covert, like prep websites.
The Atlantic article is a lengthy piece. The author describes a Friday Night Lights-type Texas school district that was nearly shut down by the state for financial mismanagement and academic failure.
Turns out the high school spent $1,300 per player on sports, but only $618 per student on math.
The solution? Desperate, the district eliminated all extracurricular sports programs — to save money.
The result? The district saved $150,000 in the first year in teacher-coach stipend costs, athletic supplies, insurance — referees were costing the district $13,000 annually — bus driver wages and related sports expenses. Maintaining the football field alone cost $20,000 per year.
And that was just the savings in dollars. One high school principal commented on how quiet his school became after extracurricular sports was canceled.
“The first 12 weeks of school were the most peaceful beginning weeks I’ve ever witnessed at a high school,” the principal said. “It was calm. There was a level of energy devoted to planning and lessons, to after-school tutoring. I saw such a difference.”
Passing academic scores rose 30 percent. Parent engagement in their kids’ scholastic achievement increased. Misbehavior among the student body fell.
Some school districts, the article goes on, have been known to lower teaching standards so they could hire teacher-coaches.
Others placed more of the cost of participation on parents, making participation in extracurricular sports an elitist endeavor, and thus unobtainable by poorer students.
Still more districts laid off teachers, then used the salary savings to keep their sports programs financially afloat.
Meanwhile, American kids have fallen behind in an ever-increasing competitive global economy.
A 2017 Pew Research Center report noted that American students overall fall into the middle of the academic pack — 38th out of 71 — compared to other industrialized countries in math and science.
And it’s only getting worse, according to the report.
Since 2012, Washington state has grappled with funding basic education in a way that is fair and equitable for all of the state’s public school students. The issue remains unresolved, even as legislators fight in Olympia over how to get the job done. Rural school districts especially may see declines in funding.
I’m not suggesting that school extracurricular activities be eliminated or even curtailed. Prep sports are beneficial to those kids who play.
But sports at any level, and especially high school sports, are not the end-all. As a society we would do well to remember what all sports are: extracurricular — entertainment for most with some added benefits for those who participate, be it a child’s learning opportunity, a college education that might otherwise be out of reach, or a way to earn a living as a professional player.
Education, building a family and raising good human beings; understanding and employing at least a basic understanding of civics — these things and many similar ideas and endeavors should be the primary focus of not only schools, but the community in general.
As a sports-loving society we would do well to keep our priorities straight.
Lee Hughes can be reached at email@example.com.