Friday, July 15, 2011

Why School Sports are Important for Kids

I just found out that the district in which I competed in junior high school is eliminating all junior high school athletics championships for the 2011-2012 school year. I do not know how this will impact each individual school's athletic program, whether they will still continue to have a program that competes in dual meets and conference championships, or if the writing is on the wall for them too.

I did not begin to run until 9th grade, but I had been involved in school sports for long before that. I actually first wore a uniform with my school's name on it back in third grade, when I joined the school basketball team (and I didn't stop wearing a school uniform until I graduated from college). I went to a small Catholic elementary school, and we competed with the other Catholic elementary schools in the city, and whoever had the best record at the end of the season got a plastic trophy and a banner to hang in their gym. I played in quite a few other leagues so I was playing year-round, but the school season was what was important, and all the other leagues were just training for that. There was more at stake. My teammates were my classmates, my friends. I didn't want to let them down, and I sure didn't want to face them the next day at school if I played like an idiot. And since we spent the entire lunch period of every day talking about basketball (replace with "running," and some things never change), you knew it was going to come up at some point during the day. That just didn't happen with the other leagues, since it wasn't like I was seeing those teammates all the time. Secondly, I knew the opponents. We read the local sports section of the newspaper religiously, taking note of who was good and who we had to watch out for (in third grade, "scores lots of points" and "good" is synonymous...not a lot of great playmaking point guards whose strong point is assists at that age, and tracking who scored the most points was easy enough). Oh my God, I can't even imagine what it would have been like if we had the internet and Facebook! It was a lot more personal than getting your butt kicked by the powerful African American girls from Philadelphia who were as tall as my dad in the AAU tournaments, or playing against the skinny boys in the local coed league, because they were all just nameless opponents. This rivalry made the first week of junior high practice interesting, since we were all on the same team then, but we got over it quickly enough. A few years ago, the bishop decided to combine all of the elementary schools into one big school, and with that, the league was destroyed. They still have an intramural league, but hearing my little cousin talk about it, I can tell that it's not the same. The bishop also did this same thing with all the high schools in the Diocese, which pretty much destroyed an entire Conference, but that's a topic for another post. That left junior high as the next opportunity for school sports.

Junior high got a lot more competitive, since all of the players from all five elementary schools were now competing for positions on one team. I still continued to play year-round in other leagues, but school season was still my main focus. My close friends and teammates were still synonymous. I never would have made friends like that had it not been for the team. Additionally, I still had a good idea of who my opponents were, and no way did I want those public school punks to beat me. Plus I wanted that plastic trophy for my school's trophy case (talk about school spirit!). Districts wasn't a big thing for us (or a thing at all, for whatever reason), but it was for my classmates on the cross-country team. While junior high basketball may be able to escape this move relatively unscathed, junior high cross-country (and possibly other sports) will lose their big meet at the end of the season.

A high school team at their district championship meet, something that's going to become a thing of the past for their junior high counterparts.

When I talk to people, they either loved junior high and high school, or they hated junior high and high school. I fell into the latter category. I loathed every day of it. The one thing that got me through was school sports. It gave me something to look forward to at the end of each school day. It gave me goals to work towards. It gave me a large portion of my social circle. I don't know where I would have been without it. If this move eventually leads to the demise of junior high athletics, I'll mourn for all those students and everything they'll never have. We say we want our kids to be active, healthy, and athletic, but then we take away one of their greatest opportunities to do so. There are plenty of adult athletes who didn't participate in sports as a child who turned out just fine. But that doesn't mean it's a good thing to take away that opportunity for children. I know that budgets are tight, and I don't have a good solution, but I just don't think that taking away school sports is the right way to go about fixing things. I truly hope that it does not come to that for the junior high schools in my district, and my heart breaks for all the kids whose programs have already suffered this unhappy fate.


  1. I whole-heartedly agree. Though slightly different, last time I was home I learned that my high school has started making kids pay to play sports (not sure if it's all or only some). While the sports and teams still exist, there goes equal opportunity, right? What if you can't afford the equipment so that your kid can have a chance to play (insert sport here)?

    On a more general note... I'm in the same boat on some of your experience. I ran track and played basketball in middle school (aka modern junior high?) and while it wasn't my sole source of social activity, it was still important to me. High school even moreso, where it was much of my social activity with cross-country and baseball.

    Especially in high school, there were the bitter (but healthy) rivalries between schools. We didn't like Ike. I think we even had some "Stop Ike" shirts floating around...

    There are so many things I have in my head and heart to scream at schools that are cutting/reducing sports about. That includes... what happened to encouraging our kids to be active?? Now will they just go home and play video games and eat chips? Will they patrol the streets and get in trouble?

    Maybe removing the championships makes everybody win! I'm rather competitive, so screw that. Haha.

    Of course I realize your post wasn't really about getting rid of sports all-together, but I wanted to rant and it seemed like a good place :)

  2. I know you're joking with the "everybody wins" thing, but a lot of people actually get pretty upset about that! When my brother was little and played soccer, at the end of the season, everyone got a trophy to take home, even if their team didn't win a single game. And there are some youth leagues that don't even keep score. Same thing is said about finisher medals versus only giving medals to the winner. There is actually a lot of controversy about that sort of thing, how the "everyone's a winner as long as you tried and did your best" mentality is fostering a sense of entitlement. I haven't paid enough attention to it to see what people are actually saying about it, but I'm sure if you Googled it you'd come up with some fascinating stuff. I was never in one of those youth leagues that deemed everyone a winner, so I can't speak for them, but I couldn't care one way or the other about finisher medals. Doesn't really affect me, so I don't have a strong opinion on that one.

    I don't like the idea of forcing everyone play a sport though. I remember talking to a vet once, and he told me he didn't like the draft because he didn't want to go into battle with a guy who didn't have his heart in it 100%. Obviously sports are on a much less life or death scale, but it's still the same sort of idea. If someone doesn't have their heart in it 100% and doesn't actually want to be there, I don't want them on my team. That kind of attitude is poisonous, and has no place at practices or at meets. My team was my family, and if you don't want to be there, I don't want you there either.

    The encouraging kids to be active yet cutting athletic programs thing bothers me a lot. Many parents today won't send their kids out to play Manhunt or Capture the Flag with neighborhood kids because of news about abductions and sex offenders and the like. I'm not sure whether it's more prevalent today or if it's just that the media makes us hear more about it, but the result is that a lot of kids get much of their activity through organized sports. We get rid of those sports and, as you said, we're undermining our own efforts to keep kids healthy and active.

    No worries about the rant. It brought some good stuff to the table to think about. Thanks.

  3. I'm fine with the "everyone's a winner" mentality for younger kids. Even for all ages, I suppose, to a point. I mean, if you try your best, that's all you can ask for. But to me it's healthy competition we should have - keyword healthy. You work hard to achieve something, accomplish something. It just takes away one more motive to do your best.

    Agreed. If you don't want to be there, don't be there. I wasn't implying we should force our kids to play sports at all. But it seems like it takes away the opportunity for some of those who do.

  4. "You work hard to achieve something, accomplish something. It just takes away one more motive to do your best."
    I like that. Thanks.

    The "everyone's a winner" thing is kind of tricky. Going overboard trivializes the accomplishments of the truly great. If I raced Desi Davila, we're not both going to be winners, and it would be silly for someone to hand me a medal and tell me that my accomplishment is the same as hers and that I won too. Furthermore, it has the potential to minimize the desire to push yourself. I mean, if your accomplishment is the same and you still win whether you're an Olympic gold medalist or last in a marathon, why aspire to the loftier goal? Personal sense of accomplishment, hopefully, but I think you understand my point, which is why you emphasized the word "healthy," which I absolutely agree with.

    Kids are a tougher call. On one hand, the people who I know that are fast now are, for the most part, the ones who were won at sports when they were younger. Now, is it because these people are naturally more athletic which is why they won when they were younger, or because they were motivated by winning at a younger age and wanted to continue to win? On the one hand, if more kids are made to feel like winners, more kids might want to participate. On the other hand, if everyone's a winner, there's less satisfaction is *really* winning, and decreased motivation to strive for greatness. I know that, even as a little kid, what made winning the elementary basketball championship so awesome was that only ONE team won, and everyone else lost. Also, then it's a weird transition, where you turn a certain age and go from "everybody wins" to "oh wait, actually only the person who's the best wins and everyone else loses."

    I should do a blog post on this. It's interesting stuff. It might be too psychological though, and I don't have a psych background, unless you count the three or four psych courses (only one of which was sports psych) I took haha.

    I'm not sure I understand your second point? Kids are losing the opportunity to play sports because sports are being made mandatory? I think I'm missing something...mind rephrasing? Thanks.

  5. Was budget the only reason to get rid of Junior High Championships? Can students still go on their own like the home-schooled students do? If they can't, talk about one more thing to be concerned about going from Junior High to High School! What will they do with the Junior High kids who score for the High School team?

  6. I don't actually know whether budget was the only reason or if there is anything else going on. I know Pennsylvania schools were hit hard with budget cuts, leaving a lot of PA teachers unemployed, so it's probably a good assumption.

    Students won't be able to go on their own simply because there's no where for them to go. The teams aren't necessarily being done away with, but the championship race itself. I'm sure that some schools will keep their junior high athletic programs, it's just that their season will end with no district championships. I'd also assume that some schools are doing away with some of their athletic programs, since that probably contributes to why they're getting rid of the district meet, but I can't say for sure.

    I don't know anything about junior high kids scoring for the high school team. A lot of schools have their junior high and high schools separate, so it's probably not an issue for many of them. The ones who move junior high kids up to train and race with the varsity will probably just run them with their high school team at the high school district championship meet, but that'll be a choice up to the individual school. The ones training and racing with their junior high team will be training for a shorter race (I think it's 3K, but seeing as I didn't run in junior high, I'm not 100% sure), so it would probably be tough for them to suddenly race a 5K, but again, that's up to each individual team.


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