Why Sports Belong in High Schools
by Aeshna Chandra on Friday, October 25th, 2013
“The Case Against High Schools Sports” by Amanda Ripley appeared on The Atlantic’s October cover page, shaking the U.S. as she ripped apart the institution of high school sports and, more specifically, their effect on academics in high school. She argued that U.S. schools, where sports are a large part of the experience, suffer in international testing because other countries, where schools and sports do not associate, focus more on academia and, therefore, score better on tests. However, in an October 2 The Atlantic article, Daniel Bowen and Collin Hitt rebut every point of Ripley’s, from her mention of international test scores to the effect that sports have on academics to the potential benefits of the presence of coaches in a student’s life. And there’s another side to the story, past all of the test scores and relationships from sports: sports make people happy. At a school like Milton, where students are so constantly stressed about schoolwork, taking away sports would take away something else as well: the sheer relief of happiness.
Ripley first blames sports for America’s ranking on international test scores. Although the U.S. ranks below other countries, the sheer size of the country lends itself to a great disparity in scores. Bowen and Hitt mention a Harvard study from 2011 that shows just how wide the range of US scores is. States like Massachusetts, the highest on the spectrum, produce test scores similar to those of Finland and South Korea, whereas states like Mississippi have scores close to those at the bottom of international rankings. At Milton, with all of our academic rigor, we don’t have this problem: our test scores are simply not affected by our athletics.
Ripley’s other main point is that coaches, often hired as teachers, become ineffective in their second role, since they are not always trained for the classroom. Bowen and Hitt disagree, calling the relationship between the coach and the student essential to the development of the student. Bowen and Hitt mention the “Becoming a Man—Sports Edition” program in Chicago, where low-income schools and sports programs joined to create one-on-one relationships between a student and an athlete or coach. After a year in the program, participants found that their prospects had changed: they were less likely to commit a crime, to drop out or transfer out of school, or to go to a juvenile detention center.
Although Milton students do not have this exact problem—we are not likely to drop out of school or to go to jail—we can nonetheless relate to the coach-student relationship that develops from being on a sports team. Coaches and trainers at Milton may or may not teach in the classroom, but where they often create a lasting effect is with the students that they work with in the athletic program. Oftentimes, students find it easier to discuss a problem with a sports coach than with a teacher; the relationship between coach and athlete, maybe more familiar or casual than the one with a teacher, is just as important as the one between teacher and student.
The last point of discourse that Ripley and Bowen/Hitt debate is the benefit of sports in high school: the social development that comes from sports affects participants greatly. Whether the rush that comes from a player’s scoring or the collective highs and lows of the crowd at a sporting event, the “spirit” of sports does much more for students and athletes than Ripley would have one believe.
At Milton, we spend Monday through Friday immersed in schoolwork, with the occasional club or sports game dotting the middle. If we were to give up any form of relaxation that takes away from us the stress of school, if only just for a moment, the stress would eventually boil over the edges. According to The Huffington Post, researchers at Penn State University found that exercise does make a person happier. So playing sports, a form of exercise, would definitely bring happiness to the players on and off the field. And we have all experienced the happiness that comes from being in the crowd, from cheering and groaning with our friends during a sports game. Maybe you remember the Milton-Nobles basketball game last year, the people rushing the court. Maybe you think about a specific sports coach who has helped you or talked to you or been nice to you. Maybe you just enjoy the feel of getting your head out of the books and enjoying something with all of your friends. Even if we score lower, school’s not all about winning in education. It is about learning and socializing and friends and happiness. And maybe sports make us, in this country, at this moment, happy.
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