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Why Sports in School?

It's pretty tough to launch a blog aimed at K-12 sports without addressing this fundamental question: Why have sports in school? Or, perhaps more to the point: What value do sports add in schools?

I'm not going to pretend to have the be-all, end-all answer right away. In fact, that's one of the main issues that this blog will be exploring in the coming months.

That said, I've stumbled onto two accounts from the past year that I hope will help elucidate the value of sports in schools.

The first comes from Jerramiah Healy, mayor of Jersey City, N.J. After initially signing a petition in March 2010 to have all sports discontinued at County Prep High School and High Tech High School, Healy retracted his decision and wrote an op-ed for The Jersey Journal with his explanation. Here's an excerpt:

"I am very much aware of the importance of sports in instilling discipline, perseverance, sacrifice, and teamwork in the four hundred plus (400+) youngsters who participate in athletics at our county schools. These are values that they will take with them throughout their lives, even if they never again participate in an athletic event. These values will serve them well in all future endeavors as mothers, fathers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, carpenters, mayors, or board members."

The second was sparked from an #edchat session on Twitter from earlier this month about whether sports and extracurricular activities should take a back seat during this time of education cuts and budget struggles. Blogger Kelly Tenkely, who runs the Dreams of Education blog, thought this question "succinctly summarizes what is wrong in education today."

There is something wrong with a system that considers the arts and physical activities as expendable. Being 'educated' has come to mean one thing: having a critical mass of a certain kind of knowledge so that one can perform well on a test. What type of knowledge have we deemed important? Literacy, math, science (and in some cases engineering and tech to round out the STEM initiatives). Aren't we more than this? I like to think that I am more complex and 'whole' than the sum of these few subjects. Isn't there more complexity to life than just literacy and STEM?

Tenkely believes that the #edchat topic needed to recalibrate its focus:

Back to the #edchat topic: Should we cut the extras in light of a struggling economy? This is the wrong question to ask. The question should be: In light of a struggling economy, how can we adjust our budgets and priorities (priorities being those things we spend money on) to include the 'extras' as part of an education that meets the needs of the whole child?

If there's one theme that's common in both these accounts, it's that sports provides students with values they aren't otherwise learning in the classroom. Sports teaches students teamwork, the value of outworking and outhustling an opponent, and the importance of communication in the heat of a battle.

In today's test-oriented educational environment, it's no surprise to see "success" defined largely based on academics. Schools are "good" or "bad" based on how many students pass certain testing benchmarks or graduate on time.

But it's also critical to remember that not all student learning is consolidated in the classroom. In fact, many of the "real-life" lessons students will learn throughout their schooling years will come not in the classroom, but out on the athletics fields.

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