In many American towns during the fall a thunderous noise can be heard coming from the direction of the local football stadium. Yet at the same time, in another place, a small group of students pursues their dream unnoticed. The academic decathlon team silently prepares for their first competition of the year. There are no spectators cheering loudly and no banners telling them good luck. The future doctors and scientists labor on without pomp and circumstance while the captain of the football team, a future McDonald’s manager stands in the spotlight absorbing all of the glory and fame. What is the cause of this strange phenomenon? Why do sports dominate the spotlight while other student activities take a back seat?
The same question can be asked of our society as a whole. Why are Nobel Prize winners given the short end of the stick when compared to the winners of the Super Bowl game? The answer is the value that Americans place on sport is greater than that placed on other things. Professional athletes in America make millions of dollars each year. Doctors, Professors, and Scientists make significantly less.
Sport is a prodigy of warfare. The best warriors were given special status within society in ancient times. Hence, the athlete is seen as the great warrior of old. They may be destined to fail within our modern day society but this is the legacy that history has left behind. Can it be overcome? I imagine that it can be as other things have been overcome. If you look at the history of mankind the value placed on the warrior within society has been in existence for millennia. The value of intellect has spanned a much shorter time span. Institutions that have been ingrained within society take a long time to be overcome. Will the sports idols be replaced with the intelligent any time soon? It is not likely. It is no reason that high schools value sport when the greater society places so much emphasis on sport as well.
Another reason that sports are so important in the high school setting is because of the role that they play within the school structure. There is a reason that the athletic department is given more funding than the other activities. There is also a reason that athletes have a privileged role within the school structure. Sports earn money. In an age where schools are given less and less for funding, they have to come up with ways to bring in revenues. The football team brings in more revenue than the academic clubs. It is not likely that test taking and project presentations are going to draw a lot of paying spectators. A sporting event will. This along with the funding that sports teams bring in through players fees, corporate sponsorship deals, and ticket and concession revenues make high school sports teams money making machines. This is true especially when sports teams are good. This is the reason that the star quarterback gets passing grades when an important game is on the line. No wins means no spectators. No spectators means no revenue. Many teachers turn the cheek when it comes to academic eligibility. Does this make it fair? No it does not. Does this make it justified? No it does not.
When Coca-cola and Pepsi will make million dollar contracts with school districts to have pouring rights at the schools sporting events of course schools are going to pay attention to the sports teams. A winning team means that the offers keep coming to the table. Can an academic team do this same thing for a school district. Most likely it can not. When a Friday night football game can draw thousands of spectators each paying $5 at the gate, schools want to find a way to keep the stands full. It is no wonder sports programs get large amounts of funding. They earn lots of money in some cases. If they earn it they have the right to keep it. The other programs don’t receive the funding because they don’t earn money. They are given their portion of the activities budget and if they need more they are forced to do fund-raising activities to come up with the extra funding. When you look at it this way it is much easier to understand.
It is a tangled web that has been woven. Many teachers and administrators will turn a cheek in reference to a struggling student, because of the role that they play for the school. It is sad. I always wondered when I was in high school why I should earn my good grades when other students got a get out of jail free card because they were good at sports. I think that the system needs to change especially in regards to issues such as this. I think that the cheating when it comes to grades is the single most detrimental thing that sports do to the integrity of a school.
Even though there are obvious reasons of why sports enjoy a privileged position within the school structure, this doesn’t mean that this is acceptable. In my personal experience I was part of a state champion football team, a state champion wrestling team, and was a four time state track and field qualifier. I was also part of the drama club. I was a member of one of the best concert bands in northern Colorado and I was a state champion in my event in FBLA and a national qualifier. I graduated having earned many sports accolades but also as an honor student. I have personally felt the glory of being part of a sports team and the silence that comes with success in other activities. When I was in high school I just accepted this as the way things were. I didn’t think that it was fair but I accepted it.
In my experience it is not true that sports always hold a privileged position. Oftentimes our band and drama performances brought in bigger numbers than our track and field meets. The FBLA club never had problems with lack of funding. That is because as a club project we ran a successful business as a fund raiser. The band also had no trouble with money because we came up with creative ways of raising money. On the other side of things, the football team was forced to do a fund raiser to get new uniforms. The track and field team had to go without new equipment for two seasons in order to afford new uniforms. These all indicate a turning of the tables within my high school. When it came to support from the community, sports always held a privileged position.
Now I am a coach for a track and field team. I am also studying to become a high school history teacher. I realize that things need to change. How do things change? History shows us that things change through taking action. What better place to take action than from the inside? I am already making change with the small amount of influence that I can make. As a track and field coach I had a club team for the indoor season. This club was not bound by the eligibility rules the school had in place. It was not affiliated with the school. However, I convinced the athletic directors to give me eligibility reports. I did not let my best girl athlete compete because she had failing marks. I did not go running to her teachers to get them to pass her. I instructed her to go to her teachers and to discuss with them what it would take to get a passing grade. After she had found out what grades she needed to get on her assignments to pull her grades up, we set up a study plan to achieve those goals. Every day at practice she would show up half an hour early to work on school work and would stay an hour after to work on school work. I tutored her until she was passing all of her classes. We just finished our outdoor season and our boys’ team took the first state championship in school history. The entire season we did not have a single athlete on academic ineligibility.
I believe that the role of sports in the high school setting is as an educational tool. The priority is to give the students an education. That is the way I coach my teams. I am not there to win meets. I am there to teach my athletes things that can’t be taught in the classroom. When you take that focus, you will not only see success in the classroom but on the playing field as well. It is about values. I am going to do my part to make sure that my students understand the important role that sports can play in society. At the same time I want to make sure that they understand the position that sports should hold within their lives. Hopefully through my efforts I can affect change.