Let me start this off on a positive note: First, I am a proponent of physical activity and exercise. Second, I believe everyone needs a hobby/interest/obsession, and if you choose sports, you are free to do so. It’s a free country. Mostly.
Now, for some background info…
During high school I took a required American history/government class in which we had one set of tattered, dog-eared textbooks to share. There weren’t enough copies to go around. (Remember, this was pre-Internet… you actually had to have the hard copy of the book if you wanted the information.)
Around the same time, I stumbled across a monthly school board report, and noticed that the board had approved a purchase totaling tens of thousands of dollars for new wrestling mats. This seemed wrong to me when I couldn’t study for my required history/government class because it wasn’t my turn to take home the textbook, so I wrote an op-ed column for our high school newspaper questioning the prioritization of buying new wrestling mats over buying new textbooks.
Within a few days of publication I received an invitation to visit the superintendent’s office, where I was told that I, as a mere student, had no comprehension of the role of the school board and that if I wrote any more inflammatory articles I would face dire consequences (suspension and/or expulsion were hinted at).
Needless to say, that experience left a nasty taste in my mouth about high school sports (and wrestling in particular), so when my youngest son (the first one to attend public high school) decided to wrestle, I cringed. But for his sake (because that’s what parents do) I shoved aside my personal dislike and purposed to support him in his endeavor. At his first meet, I had a panic attack. After his second meet (which cost the parents $10 apiece to watch), I cried halfway home and had to take a “chill pill” to stop the shaking and sobbing. His third meet he wasn’t scheduled to wrestle… RELIEF.
And then we hit finals week, and he had late practices scheduled. That means practice doesn’t start until 6 or 6:30. School gets out at 4. For kids who live 20-30 minutes from school, that means they have to “hang out” somewhere for a couple hours and skip dinner before practice; or drive home and back (remember, this is WINTER in Colorado), and then drive home again at 8:30 or 9 p.m.
Who schedules late practices during finals? Didn’t I sit through a painful parent meeting a few weeks ago where the athletic director and the coach explained how important it is for all of the athletes to stay “eligible” during their sports season? How does scheduling late practices during finals week help them remain eligible? Youngest son, who has been “a morning person” since birth, overslept one day this week, something that hasn’t happened all year and that only happens when he is seriously overtired.
So the late practices annoyed me. Then manchild came home and said his team has not one, but TWO meets this weekend—all day Friday, all day Saturday (Thursday was the last day of school before Christmas break). Once again, he doesn’t have any opponents in his weight class. Oh, and it will cost HIM $20 to sit and watch his teammates.
Um. HELL NO.
To top off the insanity, we found out that his weightlifting class (a school P.E. class) has changed its grading system, and that no one in the class will be getting an “A” this semester. Youngest child is, by anyone’s definition, “buff.” Weightlifting is something he does for entertainment. In school he pushes himself to the point of injury… and HE can’t get an “A”? How is THAT helping anyone succeed, whether we’re looking at GPAs and college applications or the students’ long-term feelings toward exercise and physical activity? It took me 20+ years after my multiple traumatic experiences in P.E. class (dodgeball, anyone?) to retrain my brain to enjoy exercise. I don’t want to see the same thing happen to anyone else. And seriously, should weightlifting affect one’s GPA anyway?
And so, my rant:
- Promoting physical education and athletics should not, ever, sabotage academic achievement or advancement.
- Promoting physical education and athletics should not, ever, take precedence over basic wisdom, common sense, and protecting the health and well-being of the students participating.
When sports take priority over academics, we’ve lost the understanding of what it means to “get an education.” Are sports part of getting an education? Certainly. There are valuable lessons to be learned, discipline to be gained, etc., from participating in sports. The same is true with music, art, and drama programs (where did those go, anyway?).
And so, again, for the umpteenth time in the last quarter-century, I find myself struggling with the system’s failure to prioritize what is actually important when it comes to educating our children. Some things, sadly, never change.