(We originally ran this guest editorial excerpt last year. With the hustle and bustle of school, sports and other activities, we sometimes need encouragement to see how important sports are. It is definitely worth the re-read.)
by Bob Gardner
I’m not quite sure what qualifies a former college basketball coach to assess the state of high school sports, but last week in USA Today’s online edition, the following headline caught my attention: “Former college coach proposes ending high school sports.” Wow!
This article … contained thoughts and ideas of Len Stevens, a former college basketball coach and current executive director of the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Stevens suggests we should “kick it (high school sports) to the curb” and go the way of the European model focusing solely on club sports. ...
What Mr. Stevens probably doesn’t know is that many of those countries employing the “European model” would trade their model in an instant for the education-based philosophy of high school sports in the United States.
After listening to my report at the 9th International Session for Educators at the International Olympic Academy in Greece, representatives from many nations marveled that our programs receive little or no government support, and the universal wish of the delegates from other nations was that their programs could be more like ours.
Mr. Stevens suggests that since club sports have been growing in the United States we should end high school sports and go exclusively with club sports, which “would answer a lot of problems and put the high school focus back where it belongs — on education.”
What Mr. Stevens doesn’t account for is that if sports were removed from American high schools, the focus would not be on education. The focus would be on trying to locate students who abruptly left school – dropouts – when sports were taken away.
And, by the way, the education component is the singular unique component of the U.S. model. Student-athletes learn much more than how to set a screen in basketball or cover the first-base bag in baseball. While the number of teacher-coaches has dwindled, most schools that employ out-of-school coaches require those individuals to complete an education course, such as the NFHS Fundamentals of Coaching course.
On the other hand, club sports lack an educational component. These programs exist solely for the purpose of improving one’s athletic skills. The team concept rarely exists and there is no overall philosophy to help prepare students for life after school, which is a major goal of education-based sports within the schools.
Mr. Stevens also noted that no one attends games any more.
On Friday nights in the fall, there are 7,000 high school games being played every week. On winter nights — two to three times a week — there are about 18,000 girls and boys basketball games being played. More than 7.6 million high school students compete in high school sports, and those numbers have risen for 22 consecutive years.
How many of those 7.6 million kids would still be around if the only option was to join a club team? The clubs only want the very best athletes, and fees can range from $5,000 to $10,000 a year to be involved with a year-round travel team.
A large majority of high school students who are involved in sports are there to have fun, to be with their friends, to compete and learn and to be a part of a team. Kids have a need to be needed and to be a part of something positive, to be involved with their peers and coaches who care.
Many students involved in sports do not have a support system at home – their high school teammates and coaches are their lifeblood. This concept simply does not exist through club sports.
Certainly, there are challenges in many states, mainly due to funding issues. But even in those situations when funds become tight, more often than not the community responds because it sees the value of these programs for young people.
With all due respect to Mr. Stevens, there are 7.6 million reasons we’re going to keep sports within our schools.
—Robert Gardner is the executive director of the National Federation of State High School Association