Our Children’s Future Hinges on Compromise

Posted: May 20, 2011 in high school, sports
Tags: , , , ,

For most of the last 50 years I’ve made a living writing and talking about sports. Obviously I love sports and I do indeed think it is an important part of our lives. It provides an emotional break from the day-to-day stress we all endure in growing up, marriage, rearing children, our work careers and our social interaction with others. In varying degrees, sports helps us learn about winning and losing, living within the boundaries of rules, getting along with others and sacrifice, not to mention plain old physical exercise.

And, yes, it is an important part of our educational system.

You know where this is going. The Duval County schools face a major budget crisis. Cuts have to be made. There has been talk of eliminating sports in our public schools. This week the county’s athletic director Jon Fox recommended the elimination of a bunch of sports such as golf, tennis, lacrosse, cross-country and wrestling. More cuts in athletics may be coming.

The problem is a simple one, really. There isn’t enough money, period. Some things have to go. No debating about that.

The initial reaction has been exactly what you’d expect. One side is screaming we can’t forsake our children’s academics by eliminating teaching positions, dropping subjects and cutting back on bus routes. Sports, along with the arts, have to go, they say. The other side is screaming sports keeps many children in school by providing them with a reason to do well in the classroom and perhaps earn college scholarships. Sports have to stay, they say.

The truth, I think, lies somewhere in the middle. Yes, academics should always come first, but sports, art and music are necessary to produce well-rounded, productive adults.

There’s no arguing that sports has consumed too many of us. The win-at-all-costs approach has scarred many. Sports have become a playground for cheating, academic frauds and flawed role models. Too many of us have made it too important. Sports, like entertainment, have produced multi-millionaires in a country where educators, law enforcement and homemakers often struggle to get by financially.

But I still believe sports have done far more good than bad. The clichés about learning how to win and lose, etc. are true in many, many cases. Sports have produced far more smiles for the downtrodden than anything else I can think of.

Our school administrators really have only one choice: Compromise. To eliminate all of anything isn’t the answer.

Like I said, academics come first, but I do believe we have overemphasized some areas of academics while ignoring subjects that teach us commonsense, how to earn a living and how to function well in society. As I’ve said privately to friends, our schools give us too many lawyers and not enough plumbers. This isn’t a slap at practice of law nor is it suggesting everyone should go into the plumbing trade. I do wish our educational system spent more time on life skills and life lessons – how to fill out a job application, how to do a tax return, how to change a tire, etc. – and less on calculus, French art, dissecting a frog, etc. I think we need fewer uninterested teenagers going to college because their parents insisted and more teenagers learning a productive, needed trade.

Let me get off of my pulpit. This is a sports website. I’ll get back to sports.

Some of our sports can be handled outside of the school system. Let the golf community take charge of the sport. Let the tennis community run a high school-age tennis program. Certainly, they will have to be operated within specific guidelines. It can be done. We have dozens of softball and baseball organizations in county. Why do they basically stop when the youngsters reach high school age?

The sports that stay in the school system can be trimmed financially. Eliminate all travel outside of the immediate area. It’s certainly a bonus when every football practice can be taped, but in a financial crunch it’s too much of a luxury. Yes, football should stay. The physical nature of the sports makes it too important to leave in the hand of amateurs.

The bottom line – yes the pun is intended – is our school system should keep the sports that attract the most students. That’s commonsense to me. The school system should work with outside groups to keep the other sports alive (golf, tennis, swimming, etc.). All of the sports’ budgets should be trimmed in such areas as travel and uniforms. Play more day games to cut back on the costs of electricity for lights. Play weekend double-headers, even triple-headers. Don’t ignore any possibility to cut costs but keep sports alive.

I know when I think back to my school days my memory is full. Mrs. Williams inspired me in a journalism class. I loved history. Mr. Joyner made “civics” class enjoyment and important. Coach Carpenter taught me about doing your best (or you got the paddle on the butt). I practiced harder because of Danny Talbot, who is still the best all-around athlete I ever saw. I remember struggling in Spanish and I remember a block I made against Goldsboro High as if those experiences happened yesterday. I remember striking out four times in one game. I cried all night, but over the next several days I took hours of batting practice and it made me a better hitter.

Readin’, writin’ and ‘ritmetic came first, but football and baseball weren’t far behind.

We need them all if we’re going to do our children justice.

  1. Dave:

    I do not disgree with your over all premise. However, Duval County and every other county in the state of Florida has had two years to prepare and plan for the financial crisis hitting them today. The State and the Counties have only made minor adjustments in their budgets while relying on Federal stimulis funds which were going to end. I am not the smartest man in the room but when I find 20 dollars in my pocket, I don’t change my budget plans to include continuing to find addditional 20’s in my pocket.

    The worst is yet to come. A system is in place in Duval County that is going to reward tenure over performance. The result will be fewer teachers, larger classrooms, and more pressure on after school activities and elective classes. Pressure will also be ramped up on tax payers. The end result is the School District will keep in place the most expensive staff not the most cost effective, efficient, and best staff.

    My sport wrestling was cut this week and I look on it saddly. It was surely not the most popular sport and as Team Member of the Fletcher High School 80 – 81 teams there were many nights when only parents were in the gym. In those days we traveled to different schools for single duel meets. If we traveled out of the city, we raised the money ourselves. When we needed uniforms or a new wrestling mat, we raised the money ourselves. The 80 – 81 teams were successful to very successful. Filling our gym in 1981 to capacity as we took on Orange Park High. having said all that, the sport has changed over time, the current wrestling teams no longer have single duel meets, at a minimum they have tri-meets and more often than not there were multiple meets at anyone setting.

    With the loss Wrestling and any of the other sports currently cut, a whole section of the student body will not have a sport to participate in. I was the 98 pounder, was I going to play football? or for that matter basketball? I had no interest in baseball. The sports that will be offered at High School will be the most popular, but other than football and a few selected basketball programs, none of the remaining sports are net generators of money.

    The whole system needs to changed. In my opinion scrapped. Its time to start over, wipe the slate clean. The job of educating is not getting done and has not been getting done for a long time. It is hard to believe that Duval County can not run a top notch school system on 810 million dollars.



  2. Butch says:

    So true,I went to college at the University of North Alabama because I could play baseball.Otherwise, not sure were I would be.The chance it gave me,is something I am so appreciative of!Thank you!

  3. Wyman Stewart says:

    You must have been a free-swinger, David Lamm. I can’t imagine you having a big enough strike zone to be called out on strikes. If so, who was this ace pitcher, for he must have been great at throwing to a spot.

    I’m inclined to agree with all of you. These problems are solvable. With some serious thought, sports programs may even be able to be made more cost effective. I do not see this mentioned, so I will mention it: The opportunity to tell a college you sat the bench in some sport in high school, may be the deciding factor between you and another student, who didn’t play sports, on which of you they accept for admission. This can literally be the difference in a person going to college or not going to college. So, doing away with a sport may be doing away with the opportunity to go to college, as well as, doing away with the sport.

    The Jacksonville community needs to learn to get together on sports and many other important things that will make Jacksonville a unique and quality city to live in. Intelligent people solve problems. My feeling is no sport needs to be eliminated, but we do need creative minds to band together to find solutions. That’s true of sports and almost every other problem Jacksonville has. Jacksonville needs to learn how to be a united city. Great post, David. Great comments above mine.

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