High school sports from the Friday night football game to basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball track and field, tennis, golf … you name it, it has a constituency who live and die with the outcome of the events. High school sports rank right up there with mom, apple pie and Chevrolets.
Every year, big bucks are spent to give students the chance to participate in sports-related activities, not to mention the ancillary features—cheerleaders, drill teams, pep bands, a venue to recognize those who have done something for a school not necessarily athletic-oriented. The high school football field or gymnasium are gathering places.
Big bucks, however, is a relative term. Voters in Allen, Texas, in 2009 approved a $119 million bond, with $60 million of it going to construct an 18,000-seat stadium for the high school football team. The school has 5,000 students spread out over a 650,000 square-foot area. When the stadium opens this fall, it will only rank as the fifth largest high school football facility in the state.
With education budget issues in Idaho and other states, one prominent business and sports figure in Nevada is proposing a complete rewrite of the high school sports environment. Len Stevens is now executive director of the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce. Prior to that, he was head basketball coach at the University of Nevada and Washington State University. He thinks the time has some to kill high school sports.
One Idaho school superintendent, the former director of the Idaho High School Activities Association (IHSAA) and the current director of the association strongly disagree.
According to Stevens, the model to adopt is found in Europe. There are practically no high school sports in Europe, just club sports. Club sports have been growing in the U.S. for years, and Stevens believes if states go to club sports that would answer a lot of concerns about funding, pressure on coaches to win, parents leaning on coaches for playing time for their child and kids using high school to win an athletic scholarship. With club sports, says Stevens, the high school focus would be back where it belongs, on education.
In Stevens’ wide world of sports, high schools would still have intramural sports and physical education, which would turn the emphasis to recreation, diet and exercise. Students and parents wishing a more competitive atmosphere could finance and participate in club sports modeled after what is found at the high school level today … except the contests would pit club against club, not high school against high school.
Craig Woods, superintendent of the Notus School District, says the money his district spends on athletics is well worth the cost. “I personally look at this as a great use of our money to engage students. This, along with other clubs and activities, helps students feel like they are part of school.”
Woods noted that to help reduce the cost of athletics to his district, students are required to pay a participation fee. Last year, $7,200 was collected to help cover junior high school and high school expenses for the 240 participants in school-sponsored activities.
Bill Young, who started coaching in 1962, then moved on to athletic director roles, high school administration and subsequently became the director of IHSAA, disagrees with Stevens’ assessment, especially here in Idaho.
Young said the IHSAA and the national activities association’s primary goal is that participation in a sporting endeavor must be educational. “The fact is, that those individuals who are involved in activities, it’s a learning experience. They (participants) have to be accountable. So the teaching of it (activities) is educational. Now, is it in a classroom? Yes, the classroom is the gymnasium or the field or wherever you go.”
Young says that being involved in activities, whether it’s sports or something like debate or band, shows commitment from an individual. Then, as a result, the commitment teaches that person accountability, such as being on time, not missing practice, sacrificing free time to dedicate to a certain activity. “Through that, learning comes,” said Young.
Young believes high school athletics give students the will to compete, which translates into real life. “You’re learning how to compete. When you graduate and go out into the business world, you’re competing for a job. Our nation is built on competition.”
What about the cost of a high school athletic program, especially in tough times? “I think it’s worth it. I don’t think you can put a price tag on education. The dollar that is being spent on those individuals to learn to compete in a different manner is worth it.”
While the idea of club sports may seem like a good idea in these times of tight budgets, Young says the rural complexion of Idaho makes that idea nearly impossible.
IHSAA classifications are based on four-year enrollments in grades 9-12. The classifications for the state’s 154 high schools clearly show there many more small and rural schools than larger schools, generally found in Idaho’s larger cities.
5A – four-year enrollment of 1,280 or more, (17 schools)
4A – four-year enrollment of 640 to 1,279, (27 schools)
3A – four-year enrollment of 320 to 639, 21 schools)
2A – four-year enrollment of 160 to 319, (25 schools)
1A – Div. I – four-year enrollment of 100 to 159, (32 schools)
1A – Div. II – four-year enrollment of 99 or less, (32 schools)
The current director of IHSAA, John Billetz, is adamant in opposing a club sports setting in Idaho. “I am totally against Mr. Stevens’ proposal. High school sports/activities are educational-based activities. High school sports/activities are the other side of education.”