By Shiva Ambardar
Site Leader, Toano Middle School
In small-town Premont Independent School District in Texas, budget cuts had already caused layoffs, reductions in curriculum, and cuts in art and music programs in 2011. Yet high school teams in football, basketball, cheerleading and other sports were still as popular as ever; football, at $1300 a player per year, cost more than twice as much as math education did ($618). Sports are so expensive due to various costs, from field and bleacher upkeep, to practice equipment and hiring referees. In Spring 2012, the principal decided to suspend all sports, amidst outcry from students and the community. However, the first semester that this ban went into effect, 80 percent of the students passed their classes, compared with 50 percent the previous fall.
Ripley goes on to say that the benefits of sports touted by supporters, such as learning teamwork, dedication, and discipline, do help out those that play, but in many cases this can detract from the educational experience of the other attendees of the school. One study at the University of Oregon involving 30,000 students found that both men and women reported worse academic performance when their football team was doing better. Ripley says that the main problem isn’t sports themselves, but their involvement in schools. In Finland and Germany, kids play in local sports clubs outside of school and still get the benefits of exercise.
An opposing article, “High School Sports Aren’t Killing Academics,” by Daniel Bowen and Colin Hitt, shows the positives of sports in schools. Bowen and Hitt cite research that Ohio public high schools with higher student-athletic participation rates and winning percentages over a 5 year period showed a correlation with lower dropout rates and higher test scores. This could be due to an effect called social capital, where the more invested students are in the community at school, and the more social ties they have, the less likely they are to drop out. This theory has been supported by school programs with at-risk students in Chicago, where at-risk male students are assigned for a year to counselors and athletic coaches who also act as male role models. This program has been a success. Bowen and Hitt also state that the entire US can’t be lumped into one category as being bad at school; many Massachusetts schools perform as well as South Korea and other stars of the educational world despite supporting sports programs, while Mississippi is below the US average in scores.
There are persuasive arguments in support of both schools with sports and without, the decision depends on factors unique to the school like budget size and socioeconomic status of its attendants. Schools should know both the pros and cons of sports; some schools with huge sports programs might benefit from reduction while non-existent sports programs could use getting off the ground. Many schools in areas where youth turn to gangs and other harmful group activities could use sports to keep their kids in school. Removing sports entirely is not a good idea; since more privileged children could still go elsewhere to find sports, they wouldn’t be hit as hard as less privileged kids who are hindered by transportation and safety issues outside of school. However, bloated sports programs where academics are already a weakness could certainly be cut down to refocus the school’s purpose on education.