Monday, December 17, 2007

Letter: How Important are Athletics in Schools?

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How Important are Athletics in Schools?

At the last Federal Way School Board meeting Vice President, Tom Madden, cited a research paper from Wittenberg University on the advantages of GIRLS athletics, when if comes to college completion, by girls. Since Washington State is now 50th in the nation in college completion, this would suggest that if the School Board made participation in high school athletics mandatory for all girls, Federal Way might arise from this sad position wouldn't it? Mr. Madden didn't cite what is also pretty well known is graduates from high schools where there are no athletics do even better! Just take a look at the International Schools of Lake Washington and Bellevue for some fine examples.

What is also pretty well known is that Title IX has forced public schools to offer girls athletics, increasing the total cost of athletics, while not increasing what little revenue there is in this "exercising of the physically fit" that deprives actual instruction of needed dollars. Perhaps even less well known to most is that most successful girl athletes' families have spent considerable amounts of money on special training, often starting at a very early age, to prepare them for these endeavors. These parents, deeply involved in their children's upbringing, also usually attend to the academic needs of their children with whatever resources are needed. Hence these children usually also have high GPA's in their academic endeavors.

Therefore it can be said that these are "successful" students. Would these students be academically successful without the taxpayer's subsidy? Probably so! Is there any financial incentive for girls in the athletic profession? Unlike for boys, there isn't much.

The "case" for boy's athletics is quite different. Here, there are basically two kids of boys involved. Some, like their sisters, come from families where scholarship, and finances, are not difficult issues. These kids are not usually involved in some of the "high profile" sports which we have pages devoted to in the newspapers. The other end of the spectrum is also, unlike with girls, very well represented. Low grades, low interest in academics, and doubtful values are often seen on both the sports pages and the front pages of newspapers. I can't count the number of kids that have told me "that I am planning on being in the NBA" as an excuse for lack of participation, or concern, about even the most basic of topics presented in a classroom. Hero worship of players who often exhibit some pretty bad behaviors is common place.

College coaches spend a great deal of time traveling all around the country scouting for "scholar-athletes." Emphasis upon the "athletes" at least in recent times. Once these "doubtful scholars" are found they are offered a full ride to college, special housing, individual tutoring, and many other advantages over "scholars." Still these athletes, students might not be a proper term, seem to feel that education just isn't that important and often leave school before graduating, either due to "academics" or the promise of reaping more dollars from professional teams. TV interviews with many of these former college athletes would suggest that their academic efforts were minimal. After all how can you be playing on the other side of the nation on a Tuesday night and attending classes that same day? Must be a shift in priorities there somewhere.

This puts high schools, and the taxpayers, in the less than desirable position of subsidizing what is a doubtful enterprise. As a tutor in this community I have seen more than enough of this to give me heartbreak. Why does a school district that is near the bottom of the barrel for funding continue to play this game? Why do we encourage students who struggle academically to spend time on these diversions?

Federal Way could have some of the finest schools in the nation if they were to concentrate on the basics and forget the "exercising of the physically fit" and other forms of entertainment/diversions. Elsewhere in the world this is the way. There are no shortcuts to success in education and yet some believe that athletics are the "pathway to success." Count me as "doubtful."

-- Charlie Hoff


FedWayan said...

I don't really disagree overall. But I seriously doubt that the reason that students at a Bellevue schools do well is because they have no athletics. I think it is something much more to do with the demographics and GDP of that area. Also, the International School is a 7-year school, providing a long-term stable, consistent educational environment. And at 500 students, it also has much smaller grade size than your average school. So I don't think the lack of competitive team sports is much of a factor. (And how many of those kids are in, say, after-school soccer or LL?)

Also, I think the same case could be made for (or against) boys' and girls' athletics, without rubbing in the gender gap in professional sports.


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