In defense of high school sports
In the last week, there have been a couple of incidents involving high school athletes that might make one believe that there can be nothing good about high school sports. EdWonks reported on a disgusting situation at Beaumont High School in Texas involving a tradition of sexual favors being provided for athletes at the school by young high school girls. Then Conservative Teacher had a post about a judge who decided to allow a couple of football players to complete their season before serving a sentence for a crime that resulted in serious injuries to two completely innocent people. Neither of the bloggers involved said anything negative about high school sports or athletes. The damage was all done by the athletes, the coach, and the judge involved in the stories.
Last March I retired from my hockey coaching position which ended my 32 year career in high school athletics. I understand that there are many things that high school sports can be criticized for. I know that there are some people who put too much emphasis on it. I know that there are some athletes who think they are God's gifts to the world, there are some who think they deserve special treatment, and there are some people in authority who are stupid enough to give them exactly that. Believe me when I say, however, that those people are in the minority.
There is no doubt in my mind that, overall, high school athletics is a good thing, and the great majority of the people involved in them--coaches and players--are good people. Like most coaches, I have tried to make it clear to all of my players that once they have become a part of our team, they are representing more than just themselves. Like most coaches, whenever any of my players have gotten into trouble in school or the community, I have been embarrassed. And like most other coaches, when that has happened, I've never asked anyone to give them special treatment. I would have to be very naive not to realize that there are coaches out there who lack integrity and operate out of a "winning is everything" philosophy, but they are in the minority.
In Minnesota statistics show that students involved in sports get better grades and are much less likely to drop out than students who aren't. I assume that that is probably true across the nation. I think the best thing about high school sports--especially team sports--is that it gives young people something to really care about.
I thoroughly enjoy my teaching job, but one thing I find frustrating about it is the lack of effort demonstrated by too many students. That is one reason I loved coaching hockey so much--lack of effort was definitely not a problem. The last game I coached was a section championship loss in four overtimes, and the other games in the tournament leading up to that were a 2-1 game, two 4-3 battles in which the winning goals were scored in the last two minutes, and a 1-0 double overtime game. Watching high school kids put every bit of their hearts and souls into something the way the kids on all six of the teams involved in these games did is nothing less than inspirational. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen players do things I never thought they’d be capable of, and they seemingly do it through sheer force of will, and they do it because they care so much about their team and their teammates. These kids want to play through injuries they have no business trying to play through--cuts, bruises, strains, and sprains--while some of their classmates take a day off from school anytime they sneeze or get a runny nose. You never have to hear an "I don’t care" from a player who hasn’t performed well.
One of the unfortunate results of a playoff system like we have in Minnesota is that nearly every team finishes its season with a loss. It is not unusual to see a 16, 17, or 18 year old male, who would never want to be caught dead shedding a tear in public, crying openly after a loss that has put an end to his team’s season. Even when our team has been on the winning side of those games, I couldn't help but feel for the kids on the other squad who had given every ounce of effort, and come up just a little short.
There has to be tremendous value in the life lessons our kids are learning by playing high school athletics and being involved in something that they come to care so much about. I've said this in an earlier post, but I will say it again: we keep hearing that students in our schools have lower math and science scores than their European counterparts, and that is something to be concerned about. But I have trouble believing that many European kids have the guts and character to match the student-athletes I’ve coached and coached against.
Being involved in high school athletics has been the frosting on the cake of my career, and I know I'm going to miss it. I have always loved high school sports, and it saddens and angers me when clowns like the ones in those two stories represent themselves, their teams, their communities, and everyone involved in high school sports so badly.