Voices of the Clarion: Learning to compete

School should be school; everything else is the real world

Posted: Sunday, June 19, 2005

In February the Alaska School Activities Association board of directors voted to overhaul its athletic and academic eligibility rules, and in early June the Kenai Peninsula Borough District board of education voted to support those changes.

While it is no surprise that the school board would do so, I believe it was not a well thought out decision by either group.

These new rules not only run the risk of alienating and punishing one of the more vulnerable groups of children in the system — those who struggle and are not academically successful — but they also smack of the state mandating to parents what they can and cannot do with or for their children.

It's a slippery slope that should be avoided at all cost.

If the new academic eligibility rule — only those with at least a 2.0 grade point average, or GPA, can play — had been in effect when I was in high school, with the family and learning problems I faced back then, I would have quit.

I would not have been able to participate in sports, choir or drama, which served as my source of escape and release from the pressures and frustrations that face many teenagers. Today's kids face far greater pressures.

Now, as a parent with children who have been on both ends of the academic spectrum and who participated in extracurricular activities, I believe that as long as any public funds are spent on an activity, all children — no matter what their GPA — should have the opportunity to try out for and reap the benefits they offer.

School board President Sammy Crawford's comment, "It's interesting because there are statistics that show very few high school athletes make it to the professional level. Everyone needs a solid education, but there are parents who think their kids will be the one who makes it," (June 6, Clarion) shows how disconnected the board is from the children they are supposed to be concerned to.

The assumption that only kids with a 2.0 or higher GPA benefit from these activities is academic elitism and dismissive of a large portion of the student body that will not go on to college but choose vocational schools, jobs, families and the military.

Are we saying these kids don't matter? That they are less a member of society because they choose a different path?

There is no academic reason for this rule; to assume that kids are just lazy and slacking will only result in a greater number of dropouts.

It is ironic that as kids drop out for lack of being able to participate, it will raise the aggregate GPA of those who are left, and the people who support this rule will point to that as success.

It was sports that were my saving grace and taught me more about myself and personal achievement than all the lectures I received in class.

In the classroom and at home all I heard was, "You're not living up to your potential," or "If you would just try harder, ..."

On the field I learned there was always another way to make something work, how to focus and it gave me something to belong to. It literally leveled the playing field.

The girl next to me might have better grades, more money and nicer clothes, but we belonged to the same team and those things didn't matter on the field.

A sense of belonging is something all kids need and long for. This rule tells kids they do not matter and are less valued. How is that helpful to the long-term goal of educating and preparing them for life? It is better to keep these kids connected, in school, and trying, than to have them quit and be at the mercy of choices that could ruin their lives?

The state exit exam already is in place to assure minimum education standards for graduation. How is it that a 1.0 is good enough to send these kids out into the world, but not good enough to keep them in activities that can contribute to a more well-rounded person?

In an age where American kids are overweight and isolated by extensive use of video games, how is keeping them from being active helpful?

As for when kids can and cannot transfer and why, it is not something the ASAA should be concerned with — that is the job of the parent. The child's grades will determine whether they pass or fail school.

And if a family can afford to transport their child and they prefer one school over another, than so be it.

ASAA's contention that these rules will make them a leader by setting their version of higher standards is misguided. ASAA should be concerned with teaching sportsmanship.

I have always been a supporter of extracurricular activities, but maybe it is time to consider separating the two.

School should be school.

Sports should become clubs, where everyone with the ability can participate, and where kids can learn life skills, benefit from better health, learn to work with others, set goals and find out that life is about competition.

Nancianna Misner is the newsroom assistant for the Clarion and a mother of three.

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