In high school sports, a call for moderation

At first glance, it appeared that the email to Wrangler News sports correspondent Alex Zener was nothing more than a complaint from a father frustrated by the treatment his athlete son had received from a coach at one of our local high schools.

Whether we agreed with the complaint or not, the email got us to thinking about a topic we’ve heard discussed several times in recent years over the stresses faced by high school athletes who count on sports scholarships to gain college admission.

As graduation nears and the scholarship pursuit escalates, both parent and child sometimes forget one of the important concepts that youth sports is supposed to teach: that commitment to a cause should be a binding contract, to be honored even when it’s not in our immediate self interest to do so.

In cases where such dilemmas arise, some dialog between parents and coaches might offer an opportunity to take a deeper look at the relationship between high school sports and the role they play in helping young people to achieve college educations. While high school sports always has been a major door opener for a handful of the athletic elite, that good, old-fashioned academic work ethic consistently proves to be a much more reliable means for kids to generate scholarships.

To retrace the events that brought about our renewed interest in this issue, it seems that a popular member of the high school’s varsity football squad, a senior with impressive credentials in both athletics and academics, was cut from the team after telling the coach he planned to miss a game to attend an invitation-only recruiting event at a respected engineering college in the Northwest.

The coach, noting previous warnings about other activities getting in the way of football, removed the player from that week’s lineup and ultimately from the team. The father, of course, was furious, insisting in the email to sports columnist Zener that by his “ridiculously extreme” disciplinary actions, the coach had “destroyed the student’s life.”

Well, we’re not sure about that, since this particular young man appears likely to make it to college and into a productive adulthood even without his high school football coach letting him finish out the season.

Yes, we understand the father’s frustration and, naturally, the hope he holds for his son to receive every opportunity possible to advance his future.

We also understand the pressures placed on a coach to build—and hold together—a competitive organization that not only can win next week’s game but help the participants learn the lifelong importance of honoring their commitments.

Sure, there are other elements on both sides of this discussion, but the real issue, we think, is a high school sports culture that forces students to make Herculean sacrifices to achieve…what? One of those elusive college athletic scholarships? A future career gilded with perks that mere academic superiority can’t provide?

Is it a completely unrealistic hope that both parents and coaches could think about the demands we’re placing on our young people and consider moderating some of these pressures?

Maybe somewhere in the negotiations between a kid excited about his future, a dad wanting opportunity for his son and a coach looking out for his team’s best interest could have come a little more discussion than what it appears occurred.

For those of us who consider ourselves to be part of an enlightened society, it seems like that shouldn’t be too much to ask.

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