Why Do Schools Have Athletic Programs?

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Why Do Schools Have Athletic Programs?

Talton Dunn makes a move to the rim during the 2013-2014 season.

Talton Dunn makes a move to the rim during the 2013-2014 season.

Talton Dunn makes a move to the rim during the 2013-2014 season.

Talton Dunn makes a move to the rim during the 2013-2014 season.

Bobby Lockhart, Adviser

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Ever wonder why we have such a thing as “high school athletics”? I have. When we hear about how schools need things like more computers and higher salaries for teachers, it’s hard not to question why money and resources are devoted to high school athletics.

In many other countries, sports for teens are organized through community clubs, and in the United States, we now have a number of community wide programs for a variety of sports. With AAU basketball, club soccer, USTA Jr. tennis and the like, do high schools really need to field athletic teams?

The answer depends on how you view the role of athletics in high schools. If we offer sports just to give students a chance to play sports, then the argument for high school athletics is greatly weakened. While it hasn’t always been the case, today there are many athletic opportunities in the community at large. In a small city like Harrogate obviously there aren’t as many as say Knoxville, but there are some opportunities and if high schools didn’t have teams, I’d venture to say that more community-based teams and leagues would exist.

So, back to the question at hand. Why have high school athletics?

Foremost, high school athletics are and should be an extension of a high school’s educational mission. As a letter I received from TSSAA years ago stated, “The purpose of secondary school athletics is to be a part of the total educational program.”

Say what? Educational program? You mean it’s just not about beating Hancock County? Not even close. STUDENT-athletes (emphasis intended) should learn valuable lessons about teamwork, self-discipline and personal commitment. They will hopefully experience how hard work leads to skill development and learn to apply concepts such as the “learning curve” to their own growth as an athlete.

Couldn’t teens learn these lessons through community teams? Certainly, but there are other added benefits to high school athletics. Sports teams help build school/community spirit and interest in academics. Many students are motivated to perform better in the classroom because they have to remain eligible to play sports, teaching another valuable lesson: accountability.

In rural communities like ours, some sports don’t have any community-based programming, so high school athletic programs introduce students to sports like tennis and track and field.

Of course, none of these arguments are groundbreaking or original. But just when I think almost everyone understands and agrees with them, I hear stories like the one told to me by a former principal. According to him, the football coach at his school became upset when he, the principal, expressed the view that academics were more important than sports, including football. “Do you really mean that,” asked the flabbergasted coach. The principal confirmed that indeed he did value academics more, to which the coach responded, “I can see right now that we are on different pages.” It’s probably safe to assume that this coach did see his team as an “extension of the total educational program.”

So, as we get caught up in the whirlwind of practices and competition, we all, including this fairly competitively-minded athletic director, need to take a moment and reconsider the true educational purpose of high school athletics.

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