08 August 2012

of handball and hurling, archery and inclusion

Team Handball, basketball without the height issues, equipment cost? near zero
Like many in the world, I've been watching lots of sport(s) this month. And as I do most Olympic years, I wonder why American schools spend so much money on so few sports for so few students.

Archery... why not? It might allow boys and girls to compete together,
it would surely allow kids who might use wheelchairs to play team sports with other kids.
This isn't an issue for schools elsewhere in the world who can rely on intact communities to support youth (and adult) sport(s), but in the United States it is a huge issue. In most communities I visit certain sport-activities receive massive funding from the schools, while most students miss out entirely on the benefits of this kind of physical activity joined to social learning.

As I used to say, often, when I was fighting for soccer programs for boys and girls at North Muskegon High School in Michigan - if varsity athletics have educational value they need to be available to every student who wishes to participate, if varsity athletics don't have that kind of educational value schools surely should stop including them in their programs and budgets.

Hurling, another relatively low-cost sport with high participation potential
(much cheaper in equipment costs than lacrosse, and without the negative role modelling)
My thought has always been this... the purpose of varsity athletics is participation, pursuit of the personal best, and teamwork. It is not - it cannot be - about American public schools needing to entertain an overweight population snacking on hot dogs after tailgating. It infuriated me that when I suggested that Penn State play football without fans, many said this was "unfair to the players." As someone who played sports few, if any, watched, I wondered, how sick is our academic athletics environment if the only purpose is externally-provided gratification?

Croquet... why not?
With this in mind I am always on the lookout for athletic opportunities which could involve a bunch of kids, especially kids usually left out, while using shared - not new - facilities (even if that cuts down some practice time for some other sports, which is a side benefit for everyone). If you have a pool, do you offer boys and girls water polo? If you have a field do you offer boys and girls lacrosse, hurling, field hockey, rugby (you might do both Rugby Union and Rugby Sevens)? If you have a gym do you offer boys and girls team handball, and team volleyball? If you have some space outside do you offer boys and girls archery, and croquet?

Women's Rugby Sevens. The equipment will not break your budget.
None of this will cost much, beyond a certain diversion of resources (including assistant coaching positions from some sports being shifted to head coaching positions for these new activities), except for lacrosse (and perhaps archery), equipment is cheap, and lack of many opponents is not a problem - a multi-high school or middle school district or division could form its own league, or just a couple of nearby towns could do this together. Remember, the National Hockey League played for 25 years with just six teams. It is still remembered as the glory days.

And most importantly, opportunities to redefine the school culture and climate will be created. There will be less of the elitism which inevitably surrounds the few "important" activities.

So dive into the list of Olympic sports, past and present, and see what opportunities your school can add.

- Ira Socol


Raymond Johnson said...

This is one of the things I love about most small, rural schools: the participation rate in sports is relatively high and everybody makes the team, and the combination of the two can do a lot for school and individual spirit.

Wrestling is also a good sport for participation because you're matched up with opponents according to size and there's really not much "riding the bench." With the growth of women's wrestling and the popularity of MMA, I hope both increase participation in wrestling in the future.

irasocol said...


I should have included wrestling here, I forget how many schools have dropped it. It is a fabulous sport which allows an entirely different set of kids to participate.

I will add, that I've coached in tiny schools, but one managed to keep participation low by having few sports and cutting kids... sometimes its attitude more than size.

- Ira Socol