The cover story of the current Atlantic magazine poses a controversial question: “Are sports ruining high school?” The large, bold headline proclaims, “The United States routinely spends more tax dollars per high-school athlete than per high school math student.” Foreign exchange students routinely express surprise at the prevalence of sports in the schools. International math assessments continually demonstrate the mediocre standing of this nation’s public schools. Physical activity is certainly an important aspect of an individual’s development, and team sports do engender perseverance and cooperation. Yet, with dwindling economic resources, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate the allocation of funds. What effect would the elimination of high school team sports have on education?
Last year the Premont Independent School District in Texas, which faced the imminent threat of closure for financial mismanagement and academic failure, decided to suspend all sports. The rationale for doing so was to cut costs and re-emphasize academics. ”Football at Premont cost about $1300 a player. Math, by contrast, cost just $618 a student . . . By suspending sports, Singleton (the superintendent) realized, he could save $150,000 in one year.” He allocated some of those savings raising teachers’ salaries.
About a dozen students and couple of teacher/coaches transferred. Some student-athletes chose to join club teams that met after school. That fall, the principal reported, “There was a level of energy devoted to planning and lessons and after-school tutoring.” The academic effect was almost immediately apparent. “That first semester, 80% of the students passed their classes, compared with 50% the previous fall. About 160 people attended parent-teacher night, compared with six the year before.” After that first year, the school did re-institute several team sports, under the condition that teams limit their travel to one tournament per season.
While Premont may pose an extreme example, the fact remains that school sports are very expensive, (with football topping the list) and concession stands do not cover the costs of uniforms, coaches, and travel. In fact, academics can suffer if a school opts to hire a great coach with a mediocre or poor teaching record. Sports as an enticement for school attendance does little or nothing for those marginal students’ academic engagement. ”Just 77% of American students graduate from high school–only about 2% receive athletic scholarships to college.”
So, what if YOUR high school eliminated team sports? What effect might such a change have on YOUR student and YOUR school?