A world-class education includes high school sports

August 12, 2003

This is the time of the year when you hear about the benefits of "a change of scenery."

In sports, players get a second lease on a career just on the flick of a general manager's finger on his cell phone's intercom button. A change of team, location, teammates and playing philosophy usually does motivational wonders.

I got a little taste of it last week in the form of a visit to my mom's during vacation. After nearly 25 years away from home, many landmarks and perceptions change.

Sometimes it takes a trip home to have some things hit home. And, like when I left the first time, I brought an education with me.


My high school was in a dilemma.

A school tax levy came to ballot last week. The choices were simple.

Sports and other extracurricular activities would continue if the levy passed. Otherwise, all sports - starting with football, which just opened fall practice - would stop immediately if it failed.

In my day, the high school had 1,600 students in grades 10-12. It would be like a high school the size of Thomas Johnson, Frederick or Chambersburg without sports.

Over the years, enrollment has waned, but the school district still consists of four elementary schools, one junior high and the high school - more populated with fewer facilities than we have in Washington County.

What struck home seems to be the universal disregard for sports by educational professionals. If it can't be done in a classroom, it can't be considered educational.

When the school system is in a pinch, sports - along with music and clubs in some cases - get circled as expendable luxuries. Back home, athletics would have been eliminated. Here, sports survive mostly because athletes are required to pay an ever-growing participation fee just for the opportunity to compete.

My high school had a proud tradition of state wrestling championships and competitive basketball teams when I attended. A good number of my classmates advanced to colleges because of their abilities. None made it to the pros, but most wouldn't be where they are now without participating in athletics.

It was on the verge of becoming a couple of lines in a local history book, using fond memories as bookmarks.

What seems to get lost by school boards in the sea of finances, business and politics is the diversity of the students they are trying to help. Not everyone has the same talents.

We now live with the term "world-class education" and a federal initiative called the No Child Left Behind Act. They have become the schoolhouse buzzwords signaling the starting point where budgeting wars and the queasy stomachs for most teachers begin. Administration calls for more funding while teachers are loaded down with more demands to make both concepts function.

The goal is to prepare today's students for future technology. Fill classrooms with computers, get the students to use them and that will prepare them for their adult lives.

The cyber world has its benefits, but also has a way of eliminating the real world's needs. Personal communication, instincts and self esteem - and in some cases, physical fitness - get lost in our new age.

So does that self-gratifying feeling of accomplishment that comes from doing something fulfilling well. There are young people who can't tell time without a digital clock, do math without a calculator or use the library to find a book.

And that's where sports come into play.

Sports and other school-related activities aren't the total answer, but they fill a void not provided in the world-class classroom and can help enhance their lessons. While students are being programmed for the future, school administrators forget the teamwork, disciplines, organization and instincts athletics provide.

Not every kid will be Barry Bonds, but they aren't likely to be Bill Gates either. Still, the two worlds go hand in hand to provide something more than a world-class education. It's called a well-rounded education.

So, in case you're wondering, that school levy passed - by 56 votes, but it passed. It was a surprise. No one gave it a chance.

Now 27 years since my graduation, the memories and lessons I acquired through participation can be passed on to today's students for the chance of a complete education with the help of those extras that include sports.

Sadly, it wasn't an education administrator back home who realized the need. It happened because many parents still remember what competition did for their lives and wanted to provide those lessons to our future leaders while exposing them to other avenues of interest.

I only hope the same thing happens here before high school sports go the way of their pro counterparts and get priced out of popularity.

Then again, your home is what you make of it.

Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2310, or by e-mail at

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