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.