When high schools open their doors to students in a little over a month, there will be many thoughts drifting through the heads of administrators, teachers, students, and parents. There will be thoughts of the latest fashions; girls will be comparing their new outfits, boys will talk about the newest line of sneakers from Nike. Some school members will wonder if the school cafeteria decided to improve its menu, or at least its food. Incoming freshman will be searching for their lockers and classrooms, praying to the high school gods not to let a senior notice his inexperience and take advantage of that. Everyone is interested in the summer’s break-ups and make-ups, so the school gossip will be busy filling people in. The teachers will be placing bets to determine who has received the classes and schedules from Hell. The male teachers will make their usual claim of their football team being the most dominant. Parents will be interested in knowing who is teaching their children and “…did I send Johnny to school with his lunch money?”
However, despite the large number of ideas and turmoil the new school year brings, there are two very important aspects on everyone’s mind: academics and athletics. These two key components of school life drive the school year and help to determine whether the year is a success or a failure. The athletic season starts during mid-August, two weeks prior to the beginning of the academic season; although it sometimes seems that this season never begins. In turn, the academic season runs two weeks longer than the last school-sponsored sporting event.
With the start of school just around the corner, except for those in summer school, the thought of what another year will bring fills my mind. I often wonder how I will present certain material to my classes. I constantly try to find new ways to present information. I also find myself pondering the up-coming sports season and how my school’s teams will do. Then I begin to analyze the students. How will they respond to challenges, rules, and the like? Will they respond by challenging themselves or by running scared and letting someone else take up the burden?
I have run into some disappointing attitudes dealing with school, both athletic and academic issues, since I graduated eight years ago. There have been a great number of cases where the student decides not to challenge him or herself when faced with a dilemma. It is too easy to quit, too easy to let someone else do the work. The time of self-praise and gratification appears to be over. Students and parents want the teacher or coach to praise the child at all times, even when they do something wrong. I would like to think this is an epidemic spreading throughout our country and not just in my small, rural school district.
And when I think of these students challenging themselves, I have to wonder if they face their schoolwork and athletic quandaries the same way. Do they tie these two areas of their life together? Do they see any correlation between doing better or worse in school and having that translate into success or failure on the athletic field? And if the students do not see this for themselves, is there a correlation that can be found using statistical data from collected information? I think there is a direct correlation between the two areas. I feel that academic success drives athletic success and vice versa. I also think that the more you face challenges in one of these areas, the more likely you will be to face challenges in other areas of you life, not just the two most closely linked with school. My hope is that in time I can uncover a correlation proving my thoughts on this subject.
In the first stages of my research, I have found a lot of literature discussing the topic of “Academics vs. Athletics.” However, I have also found that a majority of these sources are just that, two sides arguing over which is more important. There are many people with directly opposite views on these two subjects, and for the most part, no one wants to meet in the middle. There is no discussion between the two sides, no compromise. For example, Congressman Tom McMillan (1991) feels that more emphasis is put on a school’s “prized” team and concessions are made to keep student-athletes eligible to compete in sports. He goes on to say that there was a time when this type of thing only happened in a college setting, but has filtered its way down to high schools across the United States. (McMillen, 1991) These statements and feeling of contentment for athletics serve to show that there is little talk about meeting in the middle to benefit both a school’s academic reputation and sports teams. Also, I think this casts all schools in a bad light. This is a very generic statement aimed at trying to get high schools to improve standards, which is good. However, why lump all schools together? Are all schools the root of this problem? I do not think so.
Despite the feelings of some that sports are evil and the downfall of civilization, there is proof that some students have academic values. In a junior high school survey, one researcher found that 66% of female and 68% of male students want themselves to be associated with successful academics and they wanted their identity to be related to their schoolwork. (Goldberg and Chandler, 1992) Also, the students in this survey did want athletic recognition as well. It was found that 62% of the males wanted this recognition; while only 47% of the female students wanted athletic recognition. (Goldberg and Chandler, 1992) I have encountered many students who possess the strong academic values described in this survey. These students are highly motivated and driven to have success. There is no lapse in their academic vision. They do not allow sports to be a distracter and get in their way, nor do they let anything else.
While this is excellent and the interest in school is gratifying to teachers, is this healthy for the students to dedicate themselves solely to academics? It is true that there is much more to life than sports. However, there is much more to life than school. Students, as well as adults, should be in search of a nice balance of activities and interests in their life. A philosopher once said, “It is right to be content with what we have, never with who we are.” This is true. We should constantly be looking to improve ourselves by expanding what we know. There is much more to life than school work and the seven degrees you hold; and far more important items to debate than who received the better of a Chicago Cubs-Pittsburgh Pirate mid-season trade. In the journal, American School and University (1999), Fairfield University is described as a good example of this balance, trying to tie together two separate entities, by stressing the importance of both. In 1997, they added on to their athletic center. They added a 2,200 square foot study center with computer labs, reference materials, and tutorial sections. Also, they began to emphasize the athletic staff’s role in academics by providing times to use for player study halls and teaching classes to athletes on good study habits. As Jay Goldman (1990) says, “One way to ensure academics always takes precedence over athletics is to force coaches to monitor the classroom performance of their players.”
However, the coaches cannot be the only people to assume the role of mediator in the search for a happy medium. Depending on the sport or sports a person coaches, they may coach over 100 children. This is not fair to ask people to watch 100 children every day they are in school, adding to that a classroom full of students they must account for, and perhaps their own children. This could equate for over three hundred students in some districts. (Cotton, 1996) The parents and kids, themselves, must also aid in this. Ultimately, it is the child who decides what is important in their life. They decide to study more or less, pay attention or goof off, and what course of study to follow. However, twelve and thirteen year olds do not know what is important and what is to their benefit. They still think that their parents have a “money tree”, the boy or girl next to them is their spouse, and being the second coming of Michael Jordan is a reality for everyone. The “real” world is not reality when you are in high school.
My point is this, someone must guide these children; and the primary guide should be the parents. They are responsible for their children’s actions. They must face the consequences. Why then do we have so many parents who do nothing to discipline their children and try to instill the value of academics and athletics? There has been too many times when I have faced a parent who does not understand why a 60% in math class is bad. Or why their child, who chooses to be lazy on the sports field, does not play meaningful minutes. The entire community must take an active role in this transformation and shaping of students and young adults. (Goldman, 1990) People need to be realistic about their child’s abilities. Not every child can be the best, not everyone can receive the same amount of playing time. With this said, parents need to start shaping a more realistic view about athletics in their heads as well as their children’s’. This would benefit the school and the children.
With most of the literature I read dealt with finding a balance between school and athletics, I still think that there is a direct correlation to academic and athletic performance. In a way, this proves my point. To find a balance, there must be an imbalance and therefore a fixable solution. My solution is for one area to drive the other area. Have success at one and you will have success at the other. This may not occur individually, but as a whole, a school can benefit from a healthy mix of athletics and academics. Many authors have voiced their opinions on this topic, mixing in plain facts with quantitative research. There is evidence that schools, mainly colleges and universities, have begun to do more research and testing of their methodology and rules to help bring students in who value both sports and studying. The Patriot League, a sister of the Ivy League, is the perfect example of this balance. Some schools give athletics scholarships and some do not. They have made a stand; and that stand is for academics to drive the rest. (Suggs, 2002)
Academics and athletics are so closely entangled; often there is no boundary between the two. Because of budgeting concerns, schools often put their emphasis on the area where the most money goes. Then there are schools with no emphasis, schools with no guidance. The schools with no direction are the institutions the critics should be looking to change. Not every school has a problem. Some systems could use some tweaking, but nothing major. Other schools have many problems and will require a major overhaul. With the programs offered today and the amount of federal money available, there is no reason for a school to fall behind in offering updated courses utilizing new technology, and allowing a large number of athletic participants. If structured correctly, great strides in bridging the gap between academics and athletics can be accomplished. There can be a happy medium; the school and all personal involved have to be willing and committed to searching for the middle ground. With leadership, a school can have the influence it desires. With leadership, the lives of all who pass through the doors can change for the better. This leadership can come from academics; this leadership can come from athletics.
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