Posts Tagged ‘Athletics’

My Niece’s Son’s Picture on FaceBook Begging for Money at a Street Corner Worth a Thousand Words

October 7, 2019 Comments off

From everything I’ve witnessed on family vacations and FaceBook posts over the year, my niece’s son is a very gifted athlete. He’s a strong cross country runner, plays soccer well enough to make traveling teams, and seems to be a natural at every sport he takes on.

Like any student-athlete he has a full schedule with practices, homework, and family commitments. But because he is a student-athlete, he has one other responsibility: he needs to stand on a street corner to collect money to pay for his activity. Meanwhile, the state he lives in, Ohio, has lowered the support it receives from businesses though various tax sources and, because of lost revenues that resulted, not increased school spending in real dollars for over a decade.

I find his begging at intersections infuriating and demeaning. It appears to me that teaching children to beg at traffic signals now part of the hidden curriculum at schools just as subjecting themselves to surveillance cameras, metal detectors and shooter drills are part of the curriculum.

I guess Ohio voters think it’s more important for billionaires to get tax cuts than it is for x-c teams (and other organizations) to beg at street corners. More important to reward shareholders than it is to provide time for student-athletes to do their homework.

To paraphrase an old aphorism: it will be a good day when billionaires have to have bake sales to increase their wealth and schools receive largesse from the State governments…. and student-athletes no longer have to beg on street corners.

Dwight Scott: A Great Teacher, a Great Coach, a Wonderful Human Being

January 2, 2019 Comments off

I read on Facebook that my younger daughter’s cross country coach, Dwight Scott, passed away at the age of 87. Dwight Scott’s obituary that appeared in the local newspaper in Western Maryland, the Herald Mail, offered this synopsis of his career as an educator:

Coach Scott spent his primary years as an educator at Boonsboro High School, Boonsboro, MD, where he served for 37 years as physical education teacher, coach, and athletic director (final 19 years). He started the football and track and field programs there in the school year 1959-60. Highlights of his time as head coach of the football, track and field, and cross country teams include: Football — ten league or district championships, including two undefeated seasons (1968 and 1969); Girls Outdoor Track and Field — five state championships; Girls Cross Country — also five state championships. After retiring in 1996, Coach Scott was a volunteer assistant for the Boonsboro High School track and field program for 22 years.

Like most obituaries of educators and coaches, this one failed to capture the true essence of the human being who spent years working with students and athletes. It focused on Coach Scott’s major accomplishments: athletic programs he launched, championships he won, and the countless hours he spent as a volunteer for track and field. What it doesn’t capture is how Coach Scott connected with students when he was teaching gym classes, how he connected with athletes and the parents of athletes when he was a coach, and how he connected with his colleagues in the school when he was Athletic Director. And what it fails to capture at all is what a wonderful human being Coach Scott was.

Three personal anecdotes about Coach Scott illustrate his humanity.

When my younger daughter was in middle school, she and her classmates participated in a Field Day at the end of the year. After she did well in the longest run that was part of the event, Coach Scott approached her and two of her classmates and promised them if they joined the cross country team they would win a state championship and he would “graduate” with them in 1996. She and several of her classmates became the core of three of those championship teams on Coach Scott’s list… but they did so because Coach Scott developed a camaraderie among the team and the parents of the team members. Saturday cross country meets were not only competitions between teams from across the region, they were picnics catered by parents who formed their own bonds with each other and with Coach Scott. To his credit, Coach Scott never thought of me as “the Superintendent of Schools”, he thought of me as “Hannah’s dad” and treated me with the same respect as he treated every parent of one of his athletes. We— the cross country athletes and parents— were Coach Scott’s family and we all felt blessed to be a part of it.

During the fall of my daughter’s sophomore year, my father passed away. Between my own grief and the demands of my job, I had lost sight of the impact his passing had on my daughter. Coach Scott called me at work and called my wife at home to let us know that Hannah was experiencing some stress over her grandfather’s death and encouraged us to be sensitive to that. She reached out to him, and he, in turn, reached out to us.

A few years later after I moved from the area and my younger daughter went away to college in New England, Coach Scott learned that my wife had cancer. Because of the team picnics she attended over my daughter’s four years on the cross country team he knew her well… and because he connected with me as a human being he wrote to both is us regularly offering encouragement… and he corresponded with my daughter as well.  When my late wife ultimately passed away, Coach Scott he sent me a touching sympathy card, one that showed he knew my wife well and appreciated her life.

Obituaries cannot capture the humanity of those who pass away, nor can they capture the impact of the deceased on the community at large. Teachers and coaches, especially, touch countless lives. My late wife, daughter and I were touched deeply by Coach Scott, just as parents and students across the nation are touched deeply by thousands of teachers and coaches…. and, just as we touch the lives of everyone we come in contact with on a daily basis.

I believe Coach Scott would want us to honor his memory by honoring every human being we come in contact with the way he honored his athletes and their parents… by inviting every human being to be part of one family the way way he created one family with his cross country team and their parents. I also believe he would want to be remembered for his small acts of kindness more than his championships. Here’s hoping everyone who benefitted from Coach Scott’s humanity pays it forward in the years to come.


“Take a Knee or Take a Seat” Policies in Public Sports Likely to Create a Turmoil

September 29, 2017 1 comment

Earlier this week I was distressed over what I viewed to be the extreme attention being diverted to the question of the NFL players’ decisions to stage various forms of protest in response to President Trump’s inflammatory and needless tweets regarding an action a second string QB took over a year ago. But now I am starting to see that the President’s actions might result in a net benefit. Why?

First and foremost, it is calling attention to the righteousness of the rationale for Colin Kaepernick’s initial protest. As noted in an NYTimes article by Kaepernick’s teammate and fellow protester Eric Reid, the reason for the initial protest had nothing to do with the flag, the National Anthem, or the troops. It was about racism. Here are the key paragraphs from that powerful article:

I approached Colin the Saturday before our next game to discuss how I could get involved with the cause but also how we could make a more powerful and positive impact on the social justice movement. We spoke at length about many of the issues that face our community, including systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality and the criminal justice system. We also discussed how we could use our platform, provided to us by being professional athletes in the N.F.L., to speak for those who are voiceless.

After hours of careful consideration, and even a visit from Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and former N.F.L. player, we came to the conclusion that we should kneel, rather than sit, the next day during the anthem as a peaceful protest. We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.

It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel. We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite. It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest.

Articles like Mr. Reid’s and respectable news outlets like the NYTimes made a concerted effort to keep the nation’s attention on the real reason for the protests. Posts a post on social media also helped reinforce the core message of the protests… a message that is reinforced by this picture:

But not everyone in our country believes the protests are “appropriate”, and some school districts, as noted in Politico, have gone so far as to ban any kinds of protests at this weekend’s football games. In response, lawsuits are likely to follow. Here’s the synopsis from Politco’s Morning Education feed:

The principal of Parkway High School in Bossier Parish wrote in a letter that the school “requires student athletes to stand in a respectful manner” during the anthem, and that those who don’t comply could be kicked off the team. A picture of the letter was posted to Twitter by Shaun King of the Intercept and was retweeted thousands of times. Another district official told the Shreveport Times that potential punishments range from “extra running to a one-game suspension.” The school’s Facebook page was flooded with angry comments, as well.

The ACLU of Louisiana issued a statement calling the Bossier Parish school officials’ threats to punish students who protest “antithetical to our values as Americans and a threat to students’ constitutional rights.” Marjorie Esman, the executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, told Morning Education in an interview that “the Supreme Court has been very clear that schools, government officials, cannot suppress a student’s right to protest – even on a team, even during a game. To refuse to salute the flag, say the pledge, all of those thing – they are protected by the United States Constitution.”

But the constitutional right to free speech does not seem nearly as important to the so-called “strict constructionists” of the Constitution as, say, the right to bear arms. And while the school district is seemingly unlikely to prevail in any case brought against it, as long as the reason for the protests remain clear and in the forefront, the general public will be reminded that racism still exists in this country and the hatred that underpins that racism is poisoning our discourse as citizens, our democracy, and our well-being… and MAYBE those who chose a course of love over hate will let their views be known by electing officials who share that perspective.

“Professionalism of Kids Sports”, Athletic Fees in Public Schools Create a Two Tiered Athletics System Where “Amateurs”, Poor Children Lose

September 29, 2017 Comments off

I was deeply saddened and full of nostalgia when I read “What’s Lost When Only Rich Kids Play Sports“, Linda Flanagan’s Atlantic essay. In the essay she describes the experience of a poverty stricken female athlete who came of age in the early 1970s an benefitted from her participation in athletics. She laments the loss of that kind of opportunity today, noting that the cost of participating on an organized sports team has created a two tiered system:

…the fruits of America’s fixation with youth sports are largely concentrated among children with means: According to data recently released by the Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society program, household wealth is the primary driver of kids’ athletic participation. Compared to their peers whose families make more than $100,000, children ages 6 through 12 whose family income is under $25,000 are nearly three times as likely to be “inactive”—meaning they played no sport during the year—and half as likely to play on a team sport even for one day. “Sports in America have separated into sports-haves and have-nots,” said Tom Farrey, the executive director of the Sports and Society program.

And this separation is the result, in large measure, of the “professionalization of kids sports” as described in this paragraph:

Also pushing poorer kids out is the professionalization of kids’ sports: Time reports that the business of kids’ sports has grown 55 percent since 2010, and is now a $15.3 billion industry. Driving that growth is the perception that a child’s athletic achievement might improve her college prospects, lead to an athletic scholarship, and lend some prestige to the family name. Well-off-enough parents invest in specialized camps, leagues, equipment, and travel teams, while children from families without the financial resources or time—competitive kids’ games are often played across state lines, devouring weekends for parents as well as players—fill out dwindling town leagues. On top of these factors, schools with shrinking budgets are dropping physical education or requiring kids to pay for their school teams. Seventy percent of kids leave sports entirely by age 13.

This thoughtful… and very sad… essay understates the impact of athletic fees and school and community budget cuts. The cuts to town budgets, particularly in poverty stricken communities, lead to the abandonment of town funded athletic fields, the closure of playgrounds, and the inability of the communities to sustain YMCAs or churches that once provided indoor play spaces.

I came of age in the late 1950s and attended HS in the early 1960s. As a youngster the town I lived in had well equipped playgrounds, empty lots that we converted into playing fields, and affordable “amateur” teams offered by the YMCA and the churches. My HS had a robust intramural program as well as a wide array of team sports with varsity and JV levels. There were church basketball and softball leagues and community organizations and businesses supported “amateur” Little League teams, basketball leagues, and parks. As a child growing up in that time, I felt like the community wanted the children in town to have a good life even if they were not exceptional athletes.

During my 35 year career as a public school administrator I witnessed the erosion of local support for public parks– particularly in poor communities— and the demise of intramural athletics and the institution of athletic fees due to budget constraints. Both of these phenomena denied opportunities to those “amateur level” students like me to participate in organized team sports and discouraged children raised in poverty from even considering participation in athletics. And the “professionalism” Ms. Flanagan describes was a contributing factor to this trend. Why? Because one of the rationales public schools use to justify athletic fees is the fact that parents are accustomed to paying for their child to participate in athletics and one of the rationales town’s use to allow their play spaces to fall into disrepair is that “no one uses them”. In short, the virtuous circle that existed in my youth, where the public saw organized athletic activities and parks designed for those activities as something worth paying for, has been replaced with a vicious circle today where sports is a frill for all but the extraordinarily talented or those with money.

The solution offered in Ms. Flanagan’s article, a de facto reliance on philanthropy, falls short of the mark. What is needed is a communitarian movement to restore broad public funding to ensure that all children have the same opportunity to benefit from participation in sports, for such widespread participation will help restore opportunities for children of all economic levels to get to know each other and learn from each other. As Ms. Flanagan writes:

A two-tiered system of youth sports—one in which the wealthy play on pricey private clubs and the less well-off are limited to uncompetitive community programs—also undermines one of the quieter virtues of team sports: They can be places of organic integration, where economic and racial differences are supplanted by ordinary friendship and the collective desire to win.

As an “amateur” high school athlete I can attest to the benefits of community sports, for it was in intramural athletics, church leagues, and playgrounds that I experienced “…organic integration, where economic and racial differences were supplanted by ordinary friendship and the collective desire to win“.  I enjoyed cheering for our varsity basketball team as they won the championship in my senior year… but I experienced pure joy when I took the floor myself in church leagues, YMCA leagues, on intramural teams, and on the playgrounds in our community where the nets were replaced with a phone call to the recreation department. It saddens me to know that kids like me today do not have that same opportunity.

The Stunning Cost of Not Exercising… and How Municipalities and Schools Can Help

May 7, 2017 Comments off

NYTimes medical reporter Gretchen Reynolds posted an article  in yesterday’s Wellness section titled “Childs Play Is Good For All of Us”. The essay describes a recent study by researchers with the Global Obesity Prevention Center at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and other institutions who used a “bogglingly complex computer model of what the future could look like if we do or do not get more of our children moving.” The results?

The immediate health consequences for inactive children and their families are worrisome. Childhood obesity, which is linked to lack of exercise, is common, as is the incidence of Type 2 diabetes and other health problems related to being overweight among children as young as 6…

In the United States alone, we could expect to save more than $120 billion every year in health care and associated expenses.

One of the findings of the research team astonished me.

Recent research shows that in the United States and Europe, physical activity tends to peak at about age 7 for both boys and girls and tail off continually throughout adolescence. More than two-thirds of children in the United States rarely exercise at all.

Based on my personal experience, observations of my six grandchildren who live in very different locations, and the children in my community I would conclude that nearly all children in United States are active. But upon reflection, this anecdotal information doesn’t represent what is typical of our country: it reflects parents who live a healthy lifestyle, who promote athletics and physical activity in their children, and who themselves live a healthy life.

The high school in the college community where I live in New England has an inordinately high participation rate in athletics. The community itself has a healthy lifestyle. Apart for the well-equipped college facilities, within a six mile radius there are three large gyms with swimming pools, three large co-op markets that offer a wide selection of organic foods, and several restaurants offering vegan and vegetarian items on their menus. Road bikers, mountain bikers, rowers, and runners abound in three of the seasons and in winter many residents cross country ski on groomed trails or have three skyways within 20 miles. And the towns and college all have outing clubs that maintain a network of trails for hiking, running, and exploring. The Appalachian Trail runs through the community.

Thinking back on the prior places I lived, I realize that only 30-40% of the secondary students participated in athletics and in many locales the venues for athletics, the stores and restaurants with healthy options, and opportunities for running, biking and biking in public spaces were limited. The 66% inactivity rate among children in those communities would seem valid.

And thinking back to my experience teaching in Philadelphia in the early 1970s, it dawned on me that a 33% activity rate would be astonishingly high!  The junior high I taught in enrolled 3,000 students and had a varsity and junior varsity basketball team. No fall sports, no sports for females, and no spring sports at all. There were no nearby athletic fields and scarcely any spaces for playing basketball outdoors.

Reynolds article didn’t get into the inherent inequities of opportunity for participation in athletics. The fact that most urban areas lack places for outdoor recreation like that available to the children in our college town and most urban schools underserve the students in athletics. But it did conclude with a reminder to policy makers in schools and communities that recess and public parks are worthwhile. She quotes Dr. Bruce Lee, the director of the Global Obesity Prevention Program at Johns Hopkins and lead author of the study, who suggests that we:

Show this study to school administrators who are mulling curtailing recess and physical education classes… Talk to local planning authorities about more playing fields and parks. And if you are a parent, take your child for a bike ride, swim or jog.

Here’s hoping that more parents in the future have a place to take their children for a bike ride, swim, or jog….

In Taking a Knee the Beaumont Bulls Get Death Threats, Racial Slurs, and….Kicked Out of League

October 18, 2016 Comments off

In yet another case of children leading the way in seeking racial justice, the NY Daily News’ Shaun King reports on an incident in Beaumont TX that has a chilling effect on the First Amendment, a chilling effect on young athletes across the country who want to display their solidarity in seeking racial justice, and a chilling effect on the coaches and parents who want to support their children in giving voice to their concert about the treatment of black Americans. King describes the incident in Beaumont in these paragraphs:

(W)hen the San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided during the NFL preseason to not stand for national anthem, it didn’t take long for the echoes to be heard in Beaumont. Students, coaches, and parents there not only follow the league closely, but feel like the plight of injustice in America is their own. Police brutality, wrongful arrests and racial violence plague black folk in Texas and Louisiana. Within days of Kaepernick staging his protest, the coaching staff of the Beaumont Bulls, led by head coach Rah-Rah Barber, privately discussed the possibility them taking a knee before their next game, before ultimately deciding against it. The coaches didn’t want to impose anything on the players. To their surprise, though, the young boys came to them and told them they wanted to take a knee. The shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of police just two months prior had not only shaken Kaepernick and the Beaumont Bulls coaching staff, they deeply bothered the young students as well.

So, on Sept. 10, after getting permission from league officials, the staff and students of the Beaumont Bulls football team took a knee before their game. They won 27-0 and garnered national attention for their demonstration. Within 24 hours, the kids and their families began receiving death threats and racist taunts both online and off. The executive board of the team and the league issued strong statements of support backing the boys, but within a few days it all began eroding.

With very little explanation, in spite of the previous support, the Beaumont Bulls students, staff, and parents were told by their executive board not to take a knee in their following game on Sept. 17, but they defied the request and did it anyway. Again, they won their game, and the team was unified, but the bottom was about to fall out. The boys were scheduled to have a bye the following week. During that time, the executive board made a decision that shocked the whole league. They suspended Coach Rah-Rah Barber, who was not only a great coach, but a mentor and hero to many of the boys, for the rest of the season.

The suspension was based on dubious charges and after much soul searching Coach Barber’s assistant resigned and the team, in protest, refused to attend the next practice and indicated they would NOT practice until their beloved coach was reinstated. The league’s response to this?

Determined to play a game of chicken with these young boys, the executive board decided that instead of reinstating the coaches and allowing the protests, they’d simply cancel the rest of the season — and that’s exactly what they did, the parents say. The Beaumont Bulls, in spite of paying fees for a full season, and being in the league playoff race, had the rug pulled out from under them. No sports team in the country has faced this much opposition in response to Star Spangled Banner protests.

King rightfully declared that the children in this case were exemplary and the league was shameful. This athletic program was not affiliated with public schools, but it reflects the attitude of public institutions toward political protests, and it is an attitude that I find troubling. The adults who leveled death threats to the players and taunted them with racial slurs should be punished. Coming down hard on those who make death threats and racial taunts is not an act of “political correctness”, it is an act that is necessary if we are to function as a civil society. By ignoring the misconduct of the adults who engaged in these activities and penalizing the children who silently demonstrated their opposition to “…police brutality, wrongful arrests and racial violence (that) plague black folk” the league is sending a horrible message. Here’s hoping the adults overseeing the league reconsider this decision and reinstate the Beaumont Bulls.

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College Athletics, College Admissions, and Ethics

June 19, 2015 Comments off

Last week the NY Daily News reported that the board of Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges, the accrediting agency for that region of the country, was placing the University of North Carolina’s flagship campus at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) on probation for one year as a result of the cheating scandals that occurred in its athletic programs over an extended period of time. The AP article summarized the incidents at UNH-CH:

The agency previously opted against punishing UNC-CH, but acted after learning last fall of the scope of fake classes and artificially high grades in one academic department. A report revealed that the fake classes in the African studies department had gone on between 1993 and 2011. About half the 3,100 students who took the classes were athletes.

The scandal came to light when a tutor felt pangs of guilt and leaked the information to the media several years ago. The scandal resulted in several administrators and teachers losing their jobs and also resulted in the college receiving adverse publicity… but UNC-CH avoided sever punishment and commission President Belle Wheelan acknowledged that “… practical effect of the sanction is they just have to send us more documentation to show their compliance with seven of these principles,”

Alas, the “practical effect” of this misdeed mitigates the black eye UNC-CH received as a result of the accreditation agency’s sanction. The athletic championships UNC won gained publicity AND enrollments. As noted in this 2010 article by Kyle Judah in the Journal of Sports Administration and Supervision:

Examining the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, who recently won the NCAA Basketball Championship in March of 2009, we can see an increase in number of applications since 2008 by 2,957, or 15%[6]. The UNC Tarheels were featured in 23 nationally televised games[7] over the course of their 2008-2009 season, resulting in approximately 46 hours of live national television coverage and hundreds more on highlights shows like Sportscenter…. This would result in half the new applications, or 1,478 additional applications, generating $103,460 in application fees. According to the University of North Carolina Admissions website, they admitted 32% of applicants, or 473 students, with 54% enrolling, or 255 students. Tuition for an in state student is $17,424, and for out of state students, it costs $35,740 every year[8]. Enrolling 84% in state students[9] would equal 214 in state students paying $3,728,736 and 41 out of state students paying $1,465,340 every year, resulting in $5,194,076 in revenues every year…derived solely from their athletic success.

The article featured a display indicating that winning and NCAA championship yields an increase in applications of 7.5%. Was UNC-CH’s basketball championship won because of the shenanigans in one department? From a business standpoint is it worth $5,000,000 per year to “get caught” for cheating? How much would UNC-CH have to pay to get “...46 hours of national television coverage and hundreds more on news highlights”? I fear that ethical misdeeds are one of the costs of “running schools like a business”.