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Column: Ex-college coach proposes ending high school sports

And there have been plenty of them — playing and coaching days, that is, not so much cranial encounters with basketballs: head coach at Washington State (1983-87), Nevada (1987-93) and for a Swiss club team; assistant coach at UC Irvine; a player at Ohio and Wichita State; a high school coach. From the days when cartoons were a high Saturday priority through becoming a grandfather, Stevens has lived a life of sport.

All that experience is what gives his unique perspective some merit.

He wants to put an end to high school sports.

Your first reaction was probably in line with mine. Preposterous. Ludicrous. What of the pageantry, the history, the apple pie? High school sports were probably a big part of your childhood. High school sports probably helped mold who you are today.

Kick it to the curb, Stevens says.

And after you listen to his reasoning you find yourself drifting to his side of the fence — not necessarily jumping over it, but at least willing to give it more thought.

There are several reasons why Stevens, now the executive director of the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce, feels the way he does, and they all revolve around how our changing culture has effected changes in high school sports. When high school sports were introduced they were to be a completely inclusive part of the educational experiences, and for decades they were. Now that takes a back seat.

As Stevens points out:

• Coaches were supposed to be teachers. Now fewer than half of them are.

• Each passing year, fewer and fewer students attend their schools’ games. A recent study showed fewer than 10 percent attend games, Stevens said.

• At almost every school principals will tell you their greatest headache is dealing with parents who have complaints about their child’s experience in sports (the child should be playing more, the coach doesn’t know what he’s doing, the coach is too harsh, etc.).

The solution, Stevens thinks, is to go to the European model. There are virtually no high school sports in Europe, just club sports. (England has a high school sports program but it is highly overshadowed by club sports, and the rest of Europe has very limited, almost intramural-level prep sports.)

Club sports have been growing in the U.S. for years, and Stevens believes if we go to club sports that would answer a lot of problems and put the high school focus back where it belongs, on education.

In this format, high schools would still have intramural sports and physical education, which would turn the attention to recreation, diet and exercise.

Families that want the experience of high-end competition, perhaps parents who believe the road to a college education is through sports, will get more attention and more control through club sports. There is a higher cost involved, but there would also be a cost reduction to everyone by way of a tax break.

The one point that Stevens made that I’m not yet convinced will work is his notion that families that have financial challenges would still get opportunities in club sports. Stevens thinks club sports will give breaks or waivers to talented children who might not be able to afford it, but that still leaves out the “tweeners,” the kids who are good but not great who want to compete at the highest level.

In almost any scenario there would be those who would be left out compared to the opportunities that are made available through high school sports today.

Still, it’s an idea that should be considered. It’s revolutionary and even offensive to some degree, but it might just work.

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