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The Case For High School Sports

Last week, a provocative article appeared in The Atlantic titled “The Case Against High-School Sports.” In a publication known for great journalism, the piece has received thousands of “Likes” on Facebook and evoked hundreds of comments, as it argues that high school sports hinder America’s academic performance compared to other nations.

While it’s imperative that we constantly strive to improve the educational experience for America’s youth, the article’s representation of high school sports in our country is short-sided. It suggests that high schools should not subsidize sports teams, stating, “(in other countries) most schools do not staff, manage, transport, insure, or glorify sports teams, because, well, why would they?”

Here are few reasons, well, why they would.

The goal of high school is to educate our young people so that they may become productive citizens, not to simply score well on the “international math test” to which the article makes several references.

The benefits of sports as part of the education process are abundant and sometimes beyond quantification, but the article merely brushes them off with only a slight acknowledgment. Today’s employers, however, recognize those benefits in evaluating potential employees.

“We try to recruit people that can work in a team environment, are competitive and driven, and it is not a pre-requisite, but many times athletes have those traits,” says Ken Marschner, Executive Director of UBS.

“In my 30 years in the business world, I have found that what an athlete brings to the workplace is discipline, teamwork, a drive for success, the desire to be held accountable and a willingness to have their performance measured,” says Steve Reinemund, former Chairman CEO, of PepsiCo.

According to Forbes, incorporating sports into a woman’s education is perhaps even more critical in preparing her for the future, stating

In 2002, a study by mutual fund company Oppenheimer revealed that a shocking 82% of women in executive-level jobs had played organized sports in middle, high or post-secondary school. Moreover, nearly half of women earning over $75,000 identified themselves as ‘athletic.’

There is a long list of proven leaders that can attribute part of their development to sports like Jeffrey Immelt (General Electric), Meg Whitman (Hewlett Packard), and even President George H. W. Bush.

The article states that sports are overly emphasized in American high schools, commanding significant budgetary dollars. Yes, sports are a big deal in America, and it affords Americans the freedom of choice. In other countries, sports and academics are often mutually exclusive. In China, for example, a girl who wants to pursue competitive gymnastics must be identified at a young age, may then be removed from her family, and thrust into rigorous habitual training. Academics become secondary. The same happens around the world in soccer, as Lionel Messi, now one the world’s best players, was plucked at a young age and placed into a soccer academy.

Thanks to high school sports, American children can be both students and athletes.

But if we fail to support high school sports, this American freedom is threatened. If you’re not exceptional at an extremely young age and in possession of the financial resources to play, you would have a bleak future in that sport. Michael Jordan, who didn’t excel in basketball until later in high school, wouldn’t have had the opportunity to become “Michael Jordan.” And Ronald Reagan, who developed a love of football at Dixon High School before captaining the team at Eureka College, may not have acquired the skills to become president.

The article suggests that in place of high school sports, kids could play on club teams outside of school. But that misses the critical role that high school sports play in America’s unparalleled sports infrastructure.

High school sports supply talent to college sports, and college sports supply talent to professional sports.

This infrastructure is significant because sports can lift a country in need. In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, perhaps the country’s darkest hour, sports became therapeutic. “The games people love became an integral part of the healing process… the athletes, some with absolutely no ties to the city but a uniform, became a source of inspiration,” according to CNN.

A single sports team can lift a city, as the New Orleans Saints did for theirs in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. “The Saints gave the city hope. It’s something very emotional. We just love the team,” one woman told The New York Times as she sobbed softly.

Even a high school volleyball team can lift an ailing community, as HBO’s Real Sports showed with the story of Caroline Found, who was tragically killed in a moped accident. Her teammates, united with the community, rallied to win the state volleyball championship in her honor.

Sports make our country better, and high school sports play a vital role.

Personally, I played sports through college. I now work in sports technology and have taught youth lacrosse in my spare time because I believe strongly that athletics are the best teacher of life’s lessons. But like, Jenny, the Korean girl featured in the article, I’m of Asian descent and even attended school in my father’s native Japan as a youth, where academics are an obsession. While I’ve always enjoyed math and somehow even received a perfect SAT math score, I’m thankful that I was challenged in ways beyond parabolas and factorials.

At the same time, my mother was an educator, so I grew up in classrooms and have felt the direct effects of shrinking school budgets. Fiscal responsibility for high schools is critical, but cancelling high school sports would negatively impact America’s youth in more ways than we may begin to fathom. “The Case Against High-School Sports” simply isn’t a good one.

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