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The varying views of athletics

Sports impacts budgets and social climate within high school setting

Posted: August 13, 2009 9:29 p.m.
Updated: August 14, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Perspectives differ on sports among those not involved from community.

 
Athletics are a major part of any high school’s culture on many levels.

Sports help create revenue for high schools, build communities and afford athletes the opportunity to show their skills.

But there are pitfalls that come with athletics, such as the emphasis on competition and athletes receiving preferential treatment.

“Athletics set the tone for a school,” said Greg Lee, diversity coordinator and athletics administrator of the Hart School District. “It has always been that way. There’s an old saying that goes, ‘As athletics go so goes the school.’ It really is true. Whether that’s a great thing or not depends on who you talk to.”

One positive athletics bring to a school is that they give students the chance to rally behind their teams, which builds unity throughout the student body.

Also, sports provide students with the opportunity to be in a group atmosphere.

“One of the things I think about when I’m at a big event like a football game is that there are thousands of students in the stands watching the game,” Lee said. “You have to wonder what they would be doing if they weren’t at the game. It really feeds into the psyche of adolescence as far as the competitive nature of being young, and I think that reflects into the atmosphere of the campus on Monday depending on how the teams did on Friday.”

A major issue regarding athletics concerns the amount of money spent on sports.

While sports like football and basketball create revenue because admission is charged for games, most sports, such as baseball, softball and track, are free to the public, and thus not creating the same amount of money.

“Anything that takes money away from the classroom is difficult during these economic times,” said Hart District spokeswoman Pat Willett. “Still, you can never discount how important having sports is for the morale of the school. They get the kids enthused and give some of our students with special talents a chance to shine. Athletics definitely create a bond amongst the student body that would not exist otherwise.”

Leslie Littman, current president of the Hart District Teachers Association, views sports as an important part of a high school’s social scene, but with the current fiscal climate she believes athletics need to take a backseat to academic funding.

“I’m not dogging sports programs in any way,” Littman said. “But any program makes things tighter in the budget, which is something you don’t really notice until there is a money crunch, and that can be problematic.”

The Foothill League has been working on various ways to cut athletic budgets, such as no longer printing years on practice gear and uniforms so they can be reused the next year and finding new ways to limit travel costs and raise more funds for travel, which is the biggest expense for most athletic programs.

“I think the biggest misconception I hear is that sports eat up a school’s budget by traveling to tournaments and to far away games,” Lee said. “That’s not true, because we fortunately have a lot of great booster clubs that help our teams’ travel costs.”
Another aspect is being pushed in the competitive world of sports.

Vince Callier, a member of the Saugus Band and Color Guard Booster Club, has seen extracurricular life through both sports and band at Saugus High School, because his daughter played softball and his son is currently in the band.

“It’s different in many ways,” Callier said. “In sports there are a lot of players and parents that are focused on trying to get scholarships at the next level, so they view underclassmen as a major threat to playing time and achieving that goal. In band everyone plays. Obviously, there is still a ranking system, but when my son came into the band as a freshman he played right away, and he was in a group with all ages and the opposite sex, so in a way I think it might be a more well-rounded experience.”

Still, sports receive the lion’s share of attention beyond the classroom.

“Sports carry the daily attention of a large part of the community,” Littman said. “They carry the daily news like Michael Jackson carried the entertainment news.”

Callier believes that athletics feature more politicking than an out-of-class activity like band in large part because of parental involvement.

“It depends on the sport and the program, but you definitely see a different side of parents when you are dealing with sports,” Callier said. “The competition just doesn’t end. I mean, band kids want to do better than other bands, and there can be rivalries, but the way that sports have gotten, in some aspects, it can get nasty.”

Hart Associate Student Body director and boys golf coach Pete Calzia returns to one word when he talks about the impact of athletics.

“I think positive is the word that truly describes what high school athletics are all about,” Calzia said. “It’s positive because it allows the kids to get involved and connected with the school in a way outside of the classroom. For the athletes, it gets them fit and motivated and teaches them about teamwork. For the people in the stands, it is a chance to be a part of a pure sports atmosphere. That’s what high school sports are all about.”

There is still a concern that elite athletes may receive preferential treatment in the classroom compared to students who do not excel at sports.

While there have been no such incidents that Lee knows of within Foothill League schools, it is still something he ponders.

“We have 23,000 kids in our district, so to think nothing has happened would be naive,” Lee said.

Callier points out that the stresses of trying to become a varsity athlete can lead to players burning out.

“A lot of the girls my daughter played with just gave the sport up by the time that they were 15 or 16,” Callier said. “There are a lot of great things about sports when you look at the camaraderie, but I have read several articles about how too much competition is bad for a lot of kids.”

Like other extracurricular activities, there are positives and negatives with athletics, and how a program is run by the coaches and athletes determines the kind of impact it has on a school.

“With two kids, and one in each activity, we learned that each activity takes self-discipline, hard work, hours of individual practice if you want to excel, personal passion, a sense of team and loyalty, and a certain amount of selflessness to sacrifice for the group,” Callier said.

Lee said the most important aspects of athletics may be keeping everything in perspective and working to make sure the games are played in the most positive light possible.

Recently, he worked to pass rules cutting back on taunting during games and regulating the content of signs students can bring to events.

“There’s a need to always make sure that there is a balance to athletics and that things don’t go too far,” Lee said. “It’s like most things in a high school environment. There are a lot of positives that can come out of sports if they are run properly. Either way, sports are going to be a big part of our community, so we have to work to make sure that they are a part of our community that we can be proud of.”

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