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Why the Emphasis on Athletics in Schools?

The Role of Sports in Academics

By Jessica McAnally

Photography by Pete Grady 

There is growing debate surrounding athletics and their place in academics. With the shrinking budget allotted to public schools, many districts are being forced to cut back and make difficult choices between providing money toward the arts, music, or sports programs. These decisions bring forward arguments from every side, and often the question is raised about the necessity of maintaining athletic programs at all. When monetary resources aren’t available, some wonder why there is so much emphasis on athletics in schools.

The answer is multifaceted. There are varying arguments both for and against athletics, but the main focus should be on how these choices will affect students. “The goal of education is to produce a person that will be a high functioning citizen in the community, but education in itself does not produce that,” said Dan Conti, the Athletic Director and Physical Education Instructor at North Star Charter School. “Clubs and athletics help to build on other traits so that students can be a better part of society.”

Conti’s experience as a coach, Athletic Director, and father has shown him the great impact that sports can have in a child’s life. Sometimes, placing blinders on an academic-only mentality stifles a student’s growth. Playing a sport helps to teach better organization and time management skills. This includes learning how and what to eat along with other healthy habits.

It provides another learning tool that should be made accessible to all students.

Team sports have an immense influence on a student. Improving as a group by collectively putting time and effort toward a goal generates a bond and sense of pride. The satisfaction of working hard to achieve a goal on the court or field is a unique sensation that all athletes can relate to. A person does not have to be a star player to love the game, learn the lessons, and be part of the team.

There is a way of looking at athletics, which, in a sense, makes it just as important as academics in the mental growth of a child. If you were learning chemistry but weren’t able to see how things work in a laboratory, you wouldn’t understand exactly how a process happens. There are many lessons that, although well taught, may not be understood without a setting in which to test them. “That’s what athletics provide; the laboratory to experience the struggle and find the answers,” said Conti.

Although school sports teams have been a longstanding American tradition, it is possible that athletics may lose their place as a part of academics. “In the last five to seven years, schools have really started struggling to maintain numbers for teams,” said Conti. “There are lots of activities that may be more interesting or suit more kids, but it’s hard to get the numbers, funding, and time.”

The emphasis that has been placed on athletics has not been put there arbitrarily. It provides another learning tool that should be made accessible to all students. This may mean that more schools will find it necessary to partner with club teams or other organizations to provide an athletic outlet for students. Regardless of its source, sports can have a significant impact on a child’s education, and partnering that growth with academics can only be beneficial.