Saturday, March 8, 2008

Prep Sports on the ropes.

Sat, Mar 8, 2008 at 12:14 PM

Back when Slap Hitter was just a little Bunt Single in high school, keeping half an eye focused during the prep sports season, the participants were jocks and at the same time, classmates. With the news that local high school sports are being gutted like our school's football team was every fall, I'm thinking also of a future where everyone who's benefited, participated or even scoffed at high school sports will lose.

The athletes I remember best were kids who weren't any different than the rest; except they worked their ass off at a time while the rest of us were trying to get by doing the least. The quarterback was a goof in biology lab who was never as good or big a jackass as the scholarship winner before him, the power forward was the world's luckiest poker player who played both games with reckless glee, the catcher on the baseball team became the glowering bully that he had been working toward since 4th grade who was born to wear the pads and chest protector and single-handedly willed the team to the City championship, and the girl, who was the last leg on the 440 relay dashing toward the finish line with the baton… well, that puts us in a reverie that leads to a very different kind of blog.

I'm going back into Wonder Years mode, inspired by the terrible news that Alameda schools are eviscerating the prep sports program, gutting all but football, basketball and baseball/softball. The Islanders aren't unique in their destruction, they just moved first. West Contra Costa Unified and districts statewide are looking at their ledgers with a calculator in one hand and scalpel in the other.

And make no mistake, all it takes is a few euthanized programs to kill a sport. Imagine the temptation in a solvent district when faced with the reality that fewer than half the teams in the league plan on fielding a tennis team; how easy to imagine them rolling up the nets and converting them into parking lots for (no) good.

Schools are supposed to teach content as well as skills. The joys of becoming a powerful swimmer, wrestler, shot putter may be luxuries at a time when test prep classes are untouchable necessities, but the discipline in making it to practice, not letting a teammate down, answering the bell when you're a little under the weather because the team was counting on you, are skills that no multiple choice exam can replicate. It's all those 21st century skills our schools are regularly being pounded to produce for the workforce dead ahead. Working collaboratively, being a part of a team, I can't imagine how sports could help with that…

Aren't we fat as hell? Isn't Governor Arnold a believer in body as well as brains? Let's raise money by the ballot. Put out a plebiscite asking the voters of the Golden State to vote their tax dollars toward saving P.E. and many sports. Sure, some will be too winded to walk to the mailbox to drop their absentee ballots, but since we have elections every time the clock springs ahead or falls back, we're getting to be pretty good at it by now.

I'll start the ball rolling, whew, a little out of shape here, myself. Save High School Sports! Even the silly ones. I don't care if schools have to write grants to bring Kaplan tutoring on campus to teach students to play water polo, or Princeton Review to help kids learn how to play lacrosse. School without sports aren't educating the child or entertaining them or supporting their best selves. Here's where we make our stand. Find the money. Do it now. Here's an analogy. When the woodshops shut down all over the state, it cost school district beaucoup bucks to start them over again, and school's have scrambled mightily to find the teachers to instruct (since, of course there weren't woodshops around to recruit them from).

Anybody watching March madness or Spring training baseball or NFL free agent video highlights this week (get a life there, pal), owes their enjoyment to the athletes who were once prep players, lab partners, grinning buddies who always had three-of-a-kind or better, intimidating thugs, or breathtaking sprinters who pushed themselves past their comfort level for something better than the tepid applause of a high school kid half watching them.

Now I know better and so do you, and I vote for them to get whatever they need to keep it going.— Kibby Kleiman


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