When I was a young geekette, I did not understand why sports can be so important to a school.
I bitterly resented how much time and attention athletics got at my school. They took up several pages of the tiny weekly newspaper every single week, and they got an awful lot of glory and attention for being able to throw a ball, run fast, or hit something really hard.
Meanwhile, here I was, slaving every day in school to get good grades. Here were all the art students, creating gorgeous sculptures, wacky airbrushed portraits and ceramic bowls day after day. Here were all the math league kids, who had frightening trigonometric formulas completely memorized, and seemed to be some sort of math ninjas. Here were the theater geeks, who memorized lines and blocking and could make you laugh until you cried, or cry until you laughed. Here were all the writers, who could crank out poetry or prose with equal facility. Here were the band and choir kids, who loved music and constantly made hilariously irreverent jokes.
There were so many other students who deserved recognition in the newspaper.
And this is still true. Many students do go unrecognized. Newspapers only have so much space and time.
However, times were changing even when I was still in school. They started giving out academic letters, and you could letter in music. The local newspaper did cover us whenever it could.
And now I realize that many students who play sports also go quietly unrecognized. And then there are the kids who love sports and serve as managers, keep stats or just go to the game every week to cheer.
What I didn’t understand when I was still in school is how much of an impact sports can have on the lives of the kids who are in it.
And mind you, I was in sports myself until the middle of 10th grade. I loved tennis and although I never really learned to love golf, I had fun when I was in it. Tennis was the best, because my friends were in it, and we played all sorts of games and drills during the practices. I really liked tennis.
At the same time, I never needed tennis.
I was always going to stay in school. It would no more have occurred to me to drop out of school than it would have occurred to me to fly into space by flapping my arms to talk to the Martians about spearfishing and pink polka-dotted umbrellas.
Not every kid is like that. Some kids stay in school specifically so that they can play sports. Some kids keep their grades up–enabling them to at least get a high school diploma and maybe even go to college–specifically so that they can be in sports.
Sports can serve as a worm on a hook to get kids to stay in school or work on their grades.
Then there are the financials. Some sports directly make money, through ticket sales. Others do not.
However, the state government distributes money to schools based on the number of students. If one student stays in school who would have otherwise dropped out, that’s something like $8,000-$9,000 in a school’s pocket. (Those are the Minnesota numbers, and they are a little old, mind you.) While one student obviously doesn’t pay for a sports program, if there are several of those kids on a team it could make sense from a financial standpoint to spend money on sports.
Clearly that does go for the arts and all the other extracurriculars, such as speech and knowledge bowl, too, but most of the students I remember struggling hard to stay eligible were studying hard so they could be in sports.
I don’t think there are any easy answers to how much funding and attention athletics should get in a school, but I do think they keep kids in school–and that’s a goal held dear by educational institutions and geeks too.