By Sean Pearson
I remember sports in high school. It’s a bit of a stretch, since there is only so much REO Speedwagon and STYX you can listen to before permanent brain damage sets in. Either that, or the numerous hits I took in football as a relatively pathetic wide receiver finally took their toll. Still, there are glimpses.
After the last shoulder pad and kicking tee were packed away, coaches would drag out the basketball uniforms and try to explain. Blue uniforms, white warm-ups for home games, white uniforms, red warm-ups for away games. If there was a tournament or playoff game, coaches might allow us to wear the red uniforms with blue warm-ups, but those were only for special occasions.
The bottom line – all you needed to provide was underwear, socks and shoes.
Sure, the uniforms and warm-ups were polyester and simultaneously created and repelled copious amounts of sweat. And if you wanted to wear any of those funky terry cloth wristbands or headbands, you were on your own. But, after games, we each were allotted a certain amount of money for dinner. If we were far enough from home, we got to stay in a hotel, (with a pool, of course.)
Sound like a utopian system? It was real.
It’s not like we traveled to games by private jet. We took a school bus to away games, sandwiched in with cheerleaders and one or two stray percussionists from the pep band. No one complained about being packed in, they were cheerleaders for cryin’ out loud.
So, what happened to our utopian system of high school athletics? Is it all tax caps and budgetary shortfalls, or does it go deeper than that?
School district budgets set aside money for everything from frogs for dissection in science class to Italian Dunkers with Smiley Face Potatoes in the lunchroom. Sure, you can’t get a good dissecting frog as cheaply as you could in the old days. Then again, high school kids aren’t making $3.35 per hour dressed up as Billy Bob the Bear at Showbiz Pizza Place either. (I speak from personal experience.)
A report published in the Sociology of Education noted that, in a study of high school dropouts, participation in athletics significantly reduced students’ likelihood of dropping out. When’s the last time you could say that about dissecting a frog?
Does everything really come down to inflation, or is there more at hand? I’m not making implications or inferences, or suggesting some sort of evil conspiracy…I really want to know. OK, maybe I am making a few inferences.
Back then we had pep rallies, marching bands, cheerleaders, pom pom squads, a pep club, a pep band and, of course, bonfires. We drove around with white shoe polish statements about school spirit all over our windshields. We even decorated unsuspecting coaches’ houses with toilet paper and Arby’s sauce. (It’s a long story.) We did a few crazy things and a few stupid things.
But was it really any safer then? When we played sports, we all shared the same water bottles, same towels, and no one wore latex gloves if you got elbowed in the nose. You wiped the blood on your shirt, and everyone thought you were really tough. (OK…so maybe that part was a bit gross.)
Then again, no one worried that a disgruntled student might come to school with a sawed-off shotgun and start taking your friends out.
I’m not suggesting we encourage student athletes to build bonfires at will or purchase generous quantities of Charmin. Nor do I think we should do away with universal precautions when dealing with bloody noses or scraped elbows. But maybe we could use some of the money spent on biohazard protection equipment for new polyester basketball uniforms or cross-country ski wax.
Bottom line –should the money we spend, through taxes or out-of-pocket, go to enrich our kids’ educational experiences or for new metal detectors and impermeable biohazard containment suits?
A high school experience is a terrible thing to waste.
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