Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remove Sports From High Schools

picture from Evelien Heijselaar, from article posted on The Queen's Journal
If you have been following any of the sports hysteria that has swallowed our country, maybe you have had a chance to read about Cam Newton (Auburn's current quarterback) and the Sports Illustrated article by former agent Josh Luchs. As a parent of a ninth grader and someone who is highly influenced by media and commercials, he and I have many interesting conversations about the influence the sports has on our culture. When looking at how much Jordan gear he has amassed or seeing him browsing Bauer's hockey site for the latest and greatest gear, you realize just how much our sports culture translates to making money.

There is a lot of controversy around the amateur status of college athletes. Personally, as much as universities are making off of these "athlete students," I think athletes should be paid. If we start paying college athletes, this is only going to further corrupt high school programs. Our culture has gone sports crazy. It is funny how sports controversies like this, much like steroids in baseball, eventually have these revelations that we all knew were taking place the whole time... Why? because they are apart of the culture of American athletics.

What am I getting at? We need to get sports programs out of high schools.  I am not saying get rid of sports, I am saying, they need to be pushed into a community program. Reading this old Minnesota Public Radio story "Are High School Sports a Luxury?" I want to answer a couple of the common objections: 

  1. Argument - High schools sports are a part of the community fabric. This may be true, but this does not mean that sports could be run on a community level. If community pride can only be developed by sports in the town, your community has a much bigger problem on its hands. In the Twin Cities, were I reside, the recruiting and student transfers has gotten out of control. What sense of a community is there when students continue to switch schools who never grew up in that area? Have a community run program would more locally focus activities, which in turn, would actually inspire community & neighborhood pride.  Rural schools often consolidate for athletic reasons, which is really about consolidation about trying to create better sports teams.
  2. Argument - High school sports teaches students good lessons outside of the classroom. While I don't disagree with this, I also think that having high schools and athletics tied so closely together has a major effect on school culture. Top athletes are the top of the social ladder in our schools. This begins to reinforce the perception that being an athlete trumps developing both personal and academic skills of this developing youth. Schools often say they won't "be parents" for youth, yet they have no trouble helping and insisting that athletes continue to develop their  athletic skills. If schools don't have a problems developing athletes, why then should they not be responsible for developing the "whole child" of all students?"
  3. Argument - Eliminating high school athletics (although I don't want to eliminate, but rather get them into a different sector) would have an impact on student fitness. I disagree with this claim as well. Such a small percentage of students, especially at the larger schools, have a chance to participate. If we took a more intermural approach, which would be better run in a community program, more students would get to participate. This would be better worth the money being spent. As someone smartly posted on the MPR article referenced above, schools cannot complain about funding and then go and build new sports stadiums with the latest scoreboard technology. Seems a bit of a contradiction or at the very least, misplaced priorities. I would still personally like to see how much of per pupil funding goes towards athletics. Since we are talking about public schools, if you look at the budget, you should be able to ascertain this information.
  4. Argument - High School sports generate money for school districts. This is in fact true, but the money generated is much higher in affluent districts, like the suburbs. The suburbs already have a built in advantage money wise, since schools are funded in MN using property tax (higher value properties means more funding). Again, a community organization could use the revenue generated by these sporting events to fund itself as a nonprofit.
These are a few of the arguments that I feel could be dispelled or remedied. The bottom line is, students should not be choosing a school based on on athletics. If a kid wants to go to a school that doesn't offer sports, they should still be able to participate, since their parents pay taxes. Schools should focus on child development and improving student academic skills, rather than be mall schools, trying to amass state championships (i.e. Eden Prairie). This does not serve students well, whether they are athletes or not.

Lastly, which will assuredly be unpopular, teachers should not go into teaching to be a coach. While I know that there are coaches who do amazing things with students, teaching life lessons beyond the field or court, teachers need to be hired outside of considering what sports they coach. I cannot be any more blunt than that. I am generalizing, but some high school coaches need to take a stab at existing outside of the high school environment and live in the real world. Adults should not try to continue to exist in this realm of high school athletics forever, just because they were a good athlete. Unless a coach is there to make the athletes he/she is coaching better people holistically, they should hang it up. Winning championships should not be the focus of high school athletics.

While I am not naive to think that the possibility of athletics leaving high schools will happen anytime soon (since the MN State High School League would cry "murder"), I think that economics is going to require us to come up with creative solutions. Many communities would be better served planning for how they can move sports into a community run program now, rather than having to make the decision of "what to cut" in the near future. These cuts are rarely equitable and "what's best for the community."

I welcome your comments, in a respectful way. I am personally trying to throw "crazy ideas" out there more hoping to spark some discussion and thought on education. The way things have always been is not serving our students or our communities well. I am looking for equitable solutions, rather than to continue to use public dollars to fund disparity among our youth.

I leave you with this... If parents/teachers/community members spent even half as much time developing a passion for learning in kids, as they do in developing kids to be athletes (in which only .03% go on to play pro-basketball), maybe we would actually have better communities...

What are your thoughts on this? Feel free to leave comments.



Michael said...

This is such an interesting idea. It's funny to think that something is just "the way it is" for so long, then all of a sudden an epiphany hits. It doesn't HAVE to be a certain way, especially when there are more logical options. People are just so afraid change they condition their brains to accept everything as is instead of challenging or innovating.

Aaron Grimm said...

thanks for your comments. Usually "the way things are" are stay the same for a reason. There is some definite power and influence behind not changing sports in high schools. I have to admit, that I am a sports fan, but I think things have just gotten way too out of control in our country. This probably means I need to do a one month boycott of ESPN or something. :P

Jennifer said...

Hey Aaron, nice post. It's true that so many communities already have nonprofit orgs running sports leagues for most ages, like Little League and soccer, hockey, etc. Why not continue that model through high school and separate it from the school (for many reasons, including financial)?

As an aside, I'll share some good advice I once got from Jennifer Imsande...when you're taking a stand, don't feel the need to soften it by using phrases like "I believe" or "personally I think" - just go ahead and speak (write) your opinion. It will carry more weight!

Nice work and FYI, I'm bringing the Hope Survey to the attention of my school district (WBL) which is going thru a major strategic planning process.

Aaron Grimm said...

Jennifer, appreciate the comments and the constructive remarks. I need to do a better job of sticking to my guns and I know that JI also gave me that critique as well. I worry too much about offending people at times, but I also see that my viewpoints are still evolving, and I don't want to be viewed as an ideologue.

I am working on it, but definitely have some interesting insights to share regarding education.


Mr. McCabe said...


I totally disagree with your point of view on this one. Although I do believe that your position will come true within the next 20 years. I think we are already moving sports out of schools and into the community and I think this is bad.

You state, Lastly, which will assuredly be unpopular, teachers should not go into teaching to be a coach. While I know that there are coaches who do amazing things with students, teaching life lessons beyond the field or court, teachers need to be hired outside of considering what sports they coach.

In my experience, the best coaches are also the best teachers. Coaching is teaching. One externality associated with taking sports out of the schools is taking coaches out of the classrooms.

Is high school sports whacked? Absolutely. Corporations have way too much of an influence in high school basketball. Shoe companies have influence. Websites such as rank the top 14-year olds in the state. Aaron, let me ask you another question, is public education whacked?

Our American society is obsessed with results. What's going on in high school sports is a manifestation of our obsession with results.

There is also something else that occurs in high school athletics that never makes headlines. Adolescents develop leadership skills. Young men and women learn to solve problems and use critical thinking skills to achieve a common outcome. Collaboration occurs seamlessly. Good communication is emphasized by all parties involved in high school athletics. And a good work ethic leads to positive results.

Consider that last paragraph, sports actually foster the top 5 employability skills (Good Communication, Work Ethic, Social Responsibility, Collaboration, and Problem Solving & Critical Thinking). Your 'holistic' argument is one I disagree with most. If you take sports out of schools, someone else will fill that void. I coach. I coach high school boys' basketball and track. If I were not a teacher in the school, but a full-time coach, my interests and incentives would be completely different. If you think there's too much of an emphasis on winning state championships and getting recruited, think what would happen if for profit organizations ran all of high school sports.

Great blog post. I'm surprised I'm the only hater thus far.

Shane Krukowski said...

Great post Aaron! Michael, I appreciate the value of the skills practiced via organized sports as well as agree coaching role is the better teaching modality. However, systemically, education will not redesign itself if it's okay to continue to outsource skill acquisition to after school programs.

An analogy...

If a person works an 8 hr day plus 2 two hours paid overtime, and in that 2 hrs overtime gets as much accomplished as the preceding 8 hrs, management would wonder, 'why aren't we getting that kind of productivity in the first 8 hours?' I highly doubt management would see the differential and not strive to increase productivity in the original 8 hrs. In much the same way, I don't believe we can acknowledge all the good in organized sports and ignore how it's incongruent to the bulk of the educational day. Bolt ons will not change the system, despite their great attributes.