Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Time to End High School Sports?

The central mission of public education is to teach the skills necessary to contribute to the global society. Then how do high school athletics fit in?

Here are four reasons why high school athletics may not fit into the mission of public education.

Reason 1: Across the country, school districts face a money shortage. Athletics, for all the good that can come from them, add to the financial burden. For instance, a school that has Football, Soccer (boys' and girls'), Volleyball, Tennis (boys' and girls'), Cross-Country, Basketball (boys' and girls'), Swim (boys' and girls'), Bowling, Wrestling, Baseball, Softball, Track (boys' and girls'), and Golf (boys's and girls') has 19 Varsity head coaches. On average, let's assume a salary of 3,000 per coach. That is $57,000. Then, add in the cost of Junior Varsity coaches for each of those sports. At a salary of a modest 1,500, that would be $28,500. But, some of these programs have a third or even fourth coach for Freshman/C-Team participants. I'll estimate five such coaches at the J.V. salary for an additional $7,500. The total output: $93,000.
But that number fails to account for insurance, maintenance, equipment, transportation, supervision, janitorial, referees, Athletic Directors (a plush position at both the school and Central Office--leading to secretarial needs, etc.)
Athletics cost money. Too much money, perhaps.

Reason 2: Climate. No, not the one that Al Gore is worried about. As select--and I use that word somewhat facetiously--teams for every sport have risen in popularity, student athletes have grown accustomed to climate of select sports. The truth is that if you have some skill, and pay a good amount of money, those coaches will remind you often how good you really are. Those heavy doses of praise--without regard to accuracy--cause student athletes to expect the same treatment from high school coaches. So, when a high school coach doesn't see that players terrific swing or killer cross-over, that coach is labled as ignorant.

Reason 3: Accountability. Ultimately, as Central Offices hoard power and control, they look to hold others accountable for perceived failures. So, when a parent complains to the Athletic Director about her son's playing time, or how the coach yelled at her son, Central Offices feel the need to hold someone accountable. Well, it certainly isn't the parent--who failed to follow communication protocol, or the student-athlete who slacks off during drills. No, because parents have loud voices, and time to kill, they are the ones who get heard. Therefore, Central Offices are quick to get rid of coaches--or good coaches decide the money isn't good enough.

Reason 4: Entitlement. Today's student athletes feel entitled. They are part of the "self-esteem" generation where everyone plays and everyone wins. Working hard to improve--sure, if it's a video game. Accepting a coach's decision--yeah, if they're in the game.
The story's been told, but I'll mention it again here. Michael Jordan, yes, that Jordan, was cut from his basketball team as a sophomore. That seemed to work out okay for him, because his sense of entitlement came from an understanding that to be the best, one must earn it.

Four reasons. Maybe they aren't the strongest, but they are the ones I thought of. Two weeks from now, maybe I'll change my mind about high school athletics.
Reason 5: One word: Parents.


At 6:56 PM , Blogger Kristie Walker said...

Well for at least in between now and the time you change your mind, I completely agree with you, for all of your reasons. I can think of a couple of big positive to sports--the sense of team, the requirement of dedication, the learning to balance time committments--but I think more and more lately, those are balanced out by the factors you posted here. I know that I for one would never coach a sport. Not because of the pay (which, in most cases, can never match what a good coach puts in, but hey, it's the same in teaching), but because of that sense of entitlement that you described. I can't remember if it was here or elsewhere that I read about the coach from the Bay Area in CA who basically ended up with parents running her program because of issues with those attitudes. I can see that things are really bad in the sports at my school... and I teach at a middle school!

Depressing. I know my HS experience wouldn't have been nearly as rich without my involvement in sports. But heck, especially with school district shortfalls (I can't remember if you're in Edmonds or Everett, but Edmonds is laying off 40 teachers!), it becomes increasingly harder to justify a program like that if it doesn't pay for itself. We've cut music, we've cut other extracurriculars, we've cut support budgets, and we've cut academic budgets. Maybe it's time the athletics feel a pinch too.

And as far as not fitting the school's primary mission of educating students, heck, I've said that about our middle school dances since I started teaching. But they don't call me a curmudgeon for nothing.

At 3:22 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

5th reason:

If the primary reason for school is to teach the academic subjects (and why else would they be the items in all students' schedules?), then sports detract from the time we have to do that. I have lost track of the number of times I've lost students to early dismissals for games and practices. And the sport always trumps the class.

Can I tell you how strong the temptation is to pull a kid out of the 4th quarter of a game for math practice?

At 3:47 AM , Blogger CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

Reason 5 is the most cogent!

At 5:40 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Athletics has been a part of education for 2500 years, since the Greeks invented Western education. That would be a reason to keep it. But it need not be an expensive public spectacle.

In other words while athletics and physical education are indispensible, it does not have to be say, ice hockey and polo. For that matter, you probably wouldn't find a lot of people willing to foot the bill for high school students to participate in stock car racing, but I bet if the school offered competitive skateboarding (soon to be an Olympic Event) the students themselves would have a deck and half-pike built within 12 hours and practice wouldn't require a kazillion coaches either.

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At 8:16 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mrs. Walker, that school was in the Santa Cruz area--I believe it was Scotts Valley.

I agree with what Mrs. Walker said about what organized sports are *supposed* to do for students, but I also agree with many of your points. In our district, the Athletics Director is hardly a cushy job, and we're somewhat loathe to fire coaches because we're small and rural and coaches are just too difficult to come by. But I completely agree with you on the money-sapping aspect, the climate aspect, and most definitely the entitlement aspect.

Oh, and word to what Anonymous said about kids missing class. ThreeStandardDeviations had a wonderful post on a similar subject last month.

At 2:39 AM , Blogger Superdestroyer said...

Michael Jordon was not cut as a Sophmore. Michael Jordon played on the junior varsity team as a sopmore like most high school basketball players.

High school basketball is the a bad example is that AAU teams have become more important than the high school team. Just look at and the bio page for the top recruits all list their AAU team.

Cutting sports from high school hurts football the most since there is little in the way of privately organized leagues for 16-18 y/o students.

At 2:35 AM , Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Mr. McNamar, I disagree with you. I'd say I completely disagree with you, but then I'd be failing to give due respect to the very valid points that you raise. This is an important subject to me, and I don't want to try to handle it by trying to fire out a comment in five minutes at 4:30 in the morning. Thanks for giving me a subject for a post this weekend!

At 12:00 AM , Blogger cmoney said...

Reason #1 is the only legitimate reason why a particular school should cut sports outright, and even then most strapped-for-cash communities run fundraisers and implement pay to play programs. For instance, I payed a small nominal fee to play soccer in high school, as my town was going through rough times financially.

The rest of your reasons have nothing to do with whether or not athletics "fit into the mission of public education." Reason #2 through #4 are merely commentary on problems you see with with parents for the most part.

So because of those problems, of which the parents are generally at fault, let's just cut sports instead of trying to rectify the situation. GREAT idea. Nevermind that sports promote teamwork and cooperation, and prepare students for competition, coping with failure, and managing success. All of which are key components of a "global society". Let's just brush them under the rug rather than calling a spade a spade, because that's much harder to do.

At 8:39 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Yes, Colin, very good picking up on the parent thread. I love sports, especially baseball--I'm part of the Red Sox Nation in which I have been taught to live and breath Red Sox Baseball. I grew up with Celtics of the '80s. I am a coach. I know the value of high school sports. But, I also know that a lot of bullshit happens because of high shcool sports. And, please stop with the "prepare students for competition, coping with failure and managing success..." line of thinking. A good classroom does the same thing, and so does band, drama, running for ASB and host of other activities.
I've merely posed a question and provided a few reasons, from my experience, why I could make a case for getting rid of high school sports--and YES, parents are one of my main reasons.

At 6:42 PM , Blogger Eric said...

I am a high school coach too, and I have been thinking about these very things lately, as my school district proposed cutting freshman sports, then relented.

When I considered how much money the district would have saved (about $300,000), I wondered if sports were really worth the money.

You have crystallized many thoughts I have had recently about HS sports, and you have added some things I haven't thought about.

Nice work.

At 9:07 AM , Blogger HeathersSphere said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 9:14 AM , Blogger HeathersSphere said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 9:42 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

We need to write a book on this. Somehow make the book provocative enough to catch attention. I started coaching(off & on) as an off-campus person in late 70s, was fired just prior to hoops season in 2003. The coach that replaced me was on-campus and received an additional "free" period to organize her thoughts. I figured that was an increase in cost of around 10,000 bucks to the school. An administrator friend estimated that he spent over 50% of his time dealing with parents.

All of these activities could be provided by off campus groups such as AAU, etc...with much higher level of participation. And the students who do this - on their own time - would pay their own way or be sponsored by local business people like myself.

I watched my brother play high school sports on championship teams - he was one of my idols! Then I played on championship teams - it was a thrill and it shaped me, but this could be done via AAU, etc as well.

I'm a CPA...I'd love to dig into the school budgets and see how bad it is. I was in Northern California until in Northern Nevada - the sports travel budget to cover this sparsely populated region must be outrageous!

Again...let's get after this thing!

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At 4:45 AM , Anonymous acomplia said...

I also sporting in my secondarys school.

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