Dr. Stephen Daeschner, a retired school superintendent, said attempting to connect America’s rich appetite for sports with the academic success of its public schools and how the country fares on worldwide achievement tests is like comparing “apples, oranges and grapes.” What critics should be observing is a community’s respect for education, said Daeschner, who led the 110,00-student school system in Louisville, Ky., for 14 years.
While some schools may – and oftentimes do – overemphasize sports at the expense of education, one does not need to be pitted against the other. Both can fail, each can excel.
It has been his experience, Daeschner said, that student-athletes generally out-perform regular school students. Besides that, those involved in extracurricular activities in many cases become the leaders that schools and students can coalesce around. “Students will always need peer heroes in sports and academic achievement,” he said. “We adults have a great say in who the school recognizes and celebrates.”
Budgeting pressures are real – choices have to be made – and they are being forced on school administrators across the country. Nevertheless, responsible decisions are being reached, even if some are painful.
Daeschner, like many others, feels strongly that academics and athletics should play a complementary role, not an adversarial one.
“I have never seen a time when students are more engaged and busy than today’s students,” he said. “I think high school sports play an important role in today’s high school.”
It would be tragic if one day those Friday Night Lights were permanently turned off and a community’s student-athletes disappeared into the darkness, never to be seen again.
Tom Lindley is a sports columnist for the CNHI News Service. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.