Saving High School Sports

High School Sports

Ms. Lee Chua had to be the most intimidating pre-calculus teacher/cross country coach alive.

At least she seemed that way to me.

She pulled me aside after practice one Friday because I had been joking around on long runs and not practicing hard.

In no uncertain terms she told me I was no longer welcome on the team.

Looking back at my old algebra notebook, I apparently learned all about sine and cosine, how to take a derivative, and how to find Euclid’s number (Hint: it’s not his jersey number, and it’s not found on any roster).

However, what I learned most from Ms. Chua was that if I wasn’t going to give 100 percent, then I wasn’t going to represent her, my teammates, or my school.

If I wasn’t going to be a team player, then I wasn’t going to be on the team.

Sadly, lessons like this may be a thing of the past for some student athletics. High school sports, like college and professional sports, are not immune to the issue of our struggling economy.

Traveling to games costs money in gas, tolls, and sometimes bus rentals. Uniforms and equipment aren’t free, either. Coaches, referees, security guards, and scoreboard operators usually get paid, too.

So while school teachers and administrators are getting laid off and other school activities are cut, high school sports are also in serious jeopardy. It appears that very little is sacred when it comes to balancing a budget.

Eliminating high school sports might make sense from a strictly financial standpoint, but that’s about it. Even with the rising exposure in high school sports by major businesses and companies, including CBS MaxPreps, high school sports never were or will be about money.

Prep sports should not be seen merely as “athletics” or extra-curricular activities. “Co-curriculars” is more appropriate; “field classrooms” or “court classrooms” are even better.

Anyone who has ever played a high school sport can probably name a moment or memory that validated the long hours they spent on the field, in the weight room, or on the track.

While they aren’t academically enlightening, sports teach teens lessons in team work, time management, dedication, and perseverance.

Since an overwhelming majority of high school athletes will not play organized sports after they graduate, this is the last chance for many of our future leaders to soak up those life lessons, which we unknowingly took for granted in better economic times.

However, it’s not only the athletes themselves that need high school sports, but communities as a whole.

If you’ve ever sat in the bleachers at a Friday night football game, packed into a gym for a Saturday afternoon basketball game, or lined up along the last straightaway at a track meet, you know why community members care about their high school sports.

They are simultaneously a source of pride, excitement, interaction, and often, hope.

But don’t take my word for it.

Ask the people of Mount Vernon (N.Y.).

When the city’s budget was forced to cut out the school’s sports teams, people rallied to raise nearly $1 million with dinner dances, banquets, and concerts.

Mount Vernon natives Denzel Washington and Ben Gordon also made contributions.

Sound too much like a Hollywood story?

Talk to the people in Amesbury, a small town of 16,000 in northeastern Massachusetts. When a budget that called for cutting freshman teams was announced recently, people were outraged. Parents told the local press that it was a “sad day,” a “wrong path,” and a “horrible idea.”

Amesbury, no sports powerhouse or athletic scholarship factory and lacking the celebrity alumni list, simply recognizes how important it is for their kids to have the option to play high school sports. Community leaders are now considering volunteer coaches, transportation charges and general pay-to-play policies.

“I know we can be more creative than targeting our incoming freshmen class, and all to follow,,” one parent told the Ambsbury News.

See the uproar in Washington County, Utah over the proposal to cut all freshman and sophomore sports.

“With no farms, no chores, with all the technology, you can’t do a better thing for kids than get them out on any field of play,” Washington County School Board member Wes Christiansen told the Desert News.

While crucial to schools, our young people, and communities, high school sports should not be totally shielded from attempts to save money.

Perhaps districts can be redrawn to reflect teams’ more geographically sensible opponents. Maybe uniforms don’t have to be new every season. Some sports can consider holding doubleheaders, reducing travel expenses in half.

Since cost-saving methods will only go so far, communities and schools should also ponder money-raising methods.

Marshwood High School (Maine) – like many – has found success in turning to its boosters to provide extra money to alleviate its budget crunch.

Several schools have organized walk outs and protests in the face of looming cuts, to demonstrate that doing away with prep sports is not an acceptable way to save money.

Others suggest thinking further outside the box.

June Walters, in a recent guest column featured in the TCPost, suggested that pro-athletes shoulder some of the financial burden.

“Where did Derek Jeter, Ben Roethlisberger or Jason Kidd, for starters, get to play on a team, learn skills, be seen and eventually be picked up by major sports teams?” she writes. “The athletes with salaries of more than few million a year can pay to keep kids in sports and activities. I think they could take care of every school district in America.”

While the problem of shrinking dollars for high school sports may be universal, a solution for it cannot be bent into one cookie cutter mold that will fit each community.

It’s not possible to offer a blanket answer, because at their core, and despite what national media outlets might cause you to think, high school sports are local.

High school sports must succeed in every part of the country. We need to be diligent in ensuring that they continue to thrive and flourish, so that our young people can do the same.

Ms. Lee Chua would demand that type of dedication on her team; we should expect nothing less.

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