Posts Tagged ‘Athletics’

“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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