Saturday, June 7, 2008

School Sports

My sisters, being weirdly participatory for my family, insisted on going to the state championship game for our high school's baseball team. Though the game was about an hour away, much of our town filled much of the stadium. And when our team won (the first state championship game attended since 1985; first won since about 1970), the stadium exploded. The team jumped with obvious jubilee, and they got a parade for their accomplishment as soon as they arrived back in town. The firehouse message board proudly proclaimed them to be 2008 State Champs.

All of this led me to think about school sports programs in general, and sports programs in my town specifically. We take such pride in their accomplishments, award them praise and devotion and caravan across the state when gas prices are on average $4.27 a gallon to support them. And yet, due to the economic downturn the nation is experiencing at the moment, the first thing my town wants to cut from its budget is school sports. Well, the second thing. The first thing is always trash pick up, because that has continually been the one threat that will get a budget passed in my sleepy little town. Especially when it is pointed out that eliminating sanitation from the town budget doesn't eliminate the cost; it simply shifts the cost directly to the tax payer. But now, sports are on the chopping block.

I was never one to participate in sports. Getting sweaty and grimy wasn't exactly something that made me ecstatic. And I very much preferred to spend my afternoons and weekends away from school and school-related events. But that doesn't mean that I don't recognize the use of school sports, or that I don't deplore the idea that we should cut back on the school sports program.

Forget that "student athletes report healthier eating habits, increased parental support, and decreased anxiety and depression". Forget that "participating in sports is associated with higher levels of self-esteem and motivation, overall psychological well-being, and better body image for girls". Forget that school sports can help students, especially in younger grades, develop skills like cooperation and dedication. Forget that in today's scholastic competition, grades alone are not enough for students to be accepted into the top colleges, and sports are a way for many to diversify their application and exemplify some of the qualities they possess that universities are looking for. Forget scholarship options for the select elite of student athletes, people who may very well not have been able to attend college otherwise.

Even if we disregard all of those factors, school sports are still incredibly important. Why? Because we are a nation of ever-increasing obesity, and child obesity is on the rise. And 30-45 minutes every other day (or every day for one semester out of the year) in gym class isn't going to cut it. Sports programs are linked to students "maintaining a healthy exercise program". And in America today, we need to encourage and support anything that does. We need to encourage student interest in running and jumping and generally being active. We need to put more money into a myriad of sports; we need to not only support those sports that garner money for the school system but also intramural sports. We need this outlet to be as readily available as it can be for our students. Because in many cases, the habits children form in elementary school and middle school and high school are the habits they take with them throughout life. Teach a student to love books, and they will become life-long readers. Introduce a child to a sport that engages them and intrigues them, and we will have done one more thing in the war against obesity. Active children, children who are encouraged in their activeness, are more likely to turn into active adults. Let's give these children that chance.


jjfs85 said...

In many towns, the first thing on the chopping block is the music program. I could come up with a billion reasons why that's as bad an idea as sports, but I'm too lazy :-)

petpluto said...

Surprisingly, in my town music is left alone. I think it is because we're inordinately proud of our 8 person marching band, even though we have to rent a band from one of the neighboring towns for all of our parades.

Stephanie said...

I agree that sports should not be cut, but I also agree with JJ that usually music and other arts programs are the first to go because people in America inherently value their (big) sports more. I would have liked less emphasis on football and be encouraged to play sports that I personally preferred, like hockey, but many sports like golf, lacrosse, and swimming are only available if you go to a rich or large high school, and many individual sports are expensive.

(Technically, childhood obesity has leveled off. That is what you find out when you have to monitor health news every day. :) )