School’s Cool, For Now

Author: Jim Schmutz, ASEP Executive Director

08/31/2011

Welcome back to another academic year! I can just envision your happy faces and bursting enthusiasm, first-timers and veterans alike.

Okay, so some aspects of your job might be less pleasing than others. But what if the job wasn’t even available?

More and more middle schools and high schools are exploring dropping their athletic programs and letting outside agencies—park district, sport-specific organizations, AAU clubs, etc.—administer the sport participation of 12-18 year olds in their community. Squeezing budgets often starts with so-called extra-curricular activities: band, drama, and athletics.

Don’t underestimate the potential of this becoming an issue in your own district. Folks in Mansfield, Massachusetts, Rockford, Illinois, and Fontana, California--even Vernon, British Columbia—sure don’t after staring such cuts in the eye during the past year. And though those and other school districts have fended off the most drastic measures, their ability to scrape together enough funds to get by in the short term is hardly a satisfactory or long-range solution. The revenue base for school athletic programs is shrinking as costs are rising.

Something must be done.

First and foremost, parents and other community members must be informed to appreciate the value of school-based athletics. Every study comparing high school athletes versus nonathletes confirms the benefits of participating over not participating. The key now is to demonstrate that in-school athletics hold a similar edge over out-of-school sports programs. That’s where the educational component plays a decisive role.

School athletic administrators and coaches must make a strong case that an athlete’s overall development is enhanced by

• Being under the tutelage of a trained educator, or at least someone who is certified to coach.
• Competing against and playing with peers from a variety of backgrounds, not just a pre-selected group
• Demonstrating the discipline to be an adequate student, as required by the school’s student-athlete eligibility standards
• Keeping not only the body fit but exercising the brain regularly and vigorously as well, and
• Learning how to handle being observed and counted on by teammates and coaches, the student body, and fans of the school.

Personal growth opportunities from the student-athlete experience are so common, numerous, and significant that the athlete that does matriculate through the educational system and then fails to become a contributing member to society is the exception, and perhaps why she or he receives extra attention. But looking to the positive, as Sue Castle, producer of PBS’ Sports: Get in the Game put it: The evidence supporting sports participation for young people is overwhelming.”

That evidence includes the results of a Women’s Sports Foundation study showing that that females that participate in school sports are

• 92% less likely to get involved with drugs,
• 80% less likely to get pregnant, and
• Three times more likely to graduate than non-athletes.

Then, of course there are the findings of a North Carolina High School Athletic Association study that reported great discrepancies between athletes and nonathletes on five key criteria:

Grade-point average: Athletes 2.86 Nonathletes 1.96

Average number of absences per 180-day school year: Athletes 6.52 days Nonathletes 12.57 days

Discipline referrals: Athletes 30.51% Nonathletes 40.29%

Dropout rate: Athletes 0.7% Nonathletes 8.98%

Graduation rate: Athletes 99.56% Nonathletes 94.66%

Obviously, school sports serve an invaluable cultural function. At a time in our society when far too many girls and boys don’t know their father and youngsters increasingly interact through electronic devices it is hard to estimate the value of having responsible adult figures (coaches and teachers) being required to engage directly with team members and the coaching staff on a daily basis.

The beneficial role school-based sports plays in a community should be apparent to parents and fans that observe how your student-athletes behave, perform, and then progress on with their lives. But you can make them even more aware by having your student-athletes volunteer in civic projects and demonstrating their character and respect directly to citizens that will have a say in how much support the athletic department receives through booster clubs, fundraisers, and local referenda.

Think about these things and commit to making this year your most successful yet in developing the student-athletes in your program. It’s not just the right thing to do as an educator, it’s also critical if school-based sports are to be considered vital in the future. We welcome your thoughts and even more your stories, on the positive impact sports plays in the lives of high school student-athletes. We’ll share the best ideas and tales of success in this forum in subsequent issues of ASEP Insider.

Comment on Jim's article at his blog or Facebook.