The Sun News

High school sports may soon be endangered species

Here in Houston County, it’s easy to miss the enormity of the budget shortfalls education is suffering throughout the rest of the state and the country.

A furlough here, a day off there. It’s unpleasant, but bearable, especially for those of us who aren’t teachers.

Yet when systems close schools on a massive scale — as Bibb County is contemplating; as Kansas City did — it gets your attention.

We have to get serious about what we want out of our schools and how we’re going to pay for it.

Against that backdrop, it’s reasonable to question how vital high school sports are to students’ development. For spring sports alone (baseball, golf, soccer, tennis and track), the Houston County school system budgets about $120,000 for coaching supplements, based on July 2008 data from the board office.

It’s only a fraction of the budget, but it is three teachers’ worth of salary — or a lot of furlough days. Could that money be better used in the classroom? (Assuming, that is, that it could be used in the classroom. Education money comes with more strings than an orchestra.)

Probably not, if one believes data released by the National Federation of State High School Associations.

In an insert released with the March 2010 Georgia High School Association newsletter, the NFSHSA makes a good case for what it calls “cocurricular” activities like athletics, theater and debate.

The article (available at www.ghsa.net) cites research that supports the hypothesis that students involved in these activities stay in school and perform better while they’re there. They have higher GPAs and less absences.

It’s compelling reading. One must consider the source, obviously. The NFSHSA is not going to promote data that lead to its dismantling, but the conclusions seem reasonable.

Yet even the staunchest defender of prep activities must admit there are changes on the horizon. They’re not just based on budgetary issues, either.

Nationwide, school districts are changing the way they approach their missions.

Charter schools are becoming more popular. There is school choice legislation, homeschool options and Internet classrooms.

Last month, eight states announced plans to fast-track students through high school and on into college. In 20 years, the landscape of public education will be vastly different than it is today. And as a result, so too will be the look of our fields of play.

We’re already at a point where travel softball teams, classic soccer programs and AAU basketball festivals dominate the talent pool. It’s rare to see a college recruiter at a high school sporting event anymore.

For the time being, though, students still love to represent.

There’s an allure to donning school colors and competing on behalf of the community.

It’s priceless. But it may not be timeless.

Contact Chris Deighan at cdeighan@cox.net

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