Establishing Lifelong Competitiveness by Creating a High School Sports Combine
Why studies are showing that introducing opportunities at the high school level benefits both the athletes and the sports that they play.
As a young athlete who has played at both the high school and club level for many years, I can say with confidence that currently the only kids who have any chance to play a sport at an elite level are kids who have money. Creating a nationwide high school combine would bridge this gap and would give opportunities to kids who have never had them before.
I have travelled to many countries around the world from Australia to Mexico to Nicaragua to Canada, and there is nothing quite like the American high school sports system. Although most parents know that the best chance that their child has to play in college is to play on a club team, what they don’t know is that only seven percent of high school athletes end up playing in college. The percentage of kids who get a college scholarship to play a sport is so small that to most people it seems out of reach.
It is no secret that sports success in high school carries over to the classroom. Research is showing that schools with strong athletic programs have higher test scores and lower dropout rates, and that the success of the school as a whole depends on how well the school can find ways to strengthen the athletic programs as well as academic opportunities. In one study conducted by Chicago researchers, it was determined that sports creates long term improvements in study habits and grade point averages. Although many kids in the United States have the privilege to play organized athletics outside of school, many kids don’t. Many people say that ‘American principle and culture’ is based around the idea of having a central athletics program within the school, and that it has gone too far in most schools. In my mind, eliminating these opportunities would be devastating to countless kids across the country.
However, I am not saying that sports should always come first. If student-athletes were constantly allowed to miss school to play a sport that would not be a good thing. I am merely saying that despite the negative stereotypes based around sports culture in the United States, most evidence seems to indicate that school sports programs benefit students in ways that could never be accomplished through an academic program.
In the recent Atlantic article “The Case Against High School Sports” written by Amanda Ripley, she claims that “sports are embedded in American schools in a way they are not almost anywhere else.” American student-athletes sacrifice a lot to pursue their hobby and sometimes even their dream, but the benefits far outweigh the costs. Daniel H. Bowen and Jay P. Greene from the University of Arkansas found a direct relationship between schools winning percentages and athletic participation, and graduation rates as well as test scores. Harvard political science professor Robert Putnam says in his book that high school sports teach students valuable skills such as leadership, teamwork, self-discipline, and strong work habits.
One group that discovered just how immense the gap is in high school sports participation between wealthy and low income families is the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association. They found that in the 10 poorest communities in Massachusetts sports participation was 43 percent below the statewide average, and in the 10 wealthiest communities participation was 32 percent above the average. This divide is a huge problem because most educators believe that participation as well as success in extracurricular activities leads to more academic success and a stronger drive to come to school and learn.
It was the fall of 2016. As a young athlete I had always dreamed of this moment but I never thought that it would really happen to me. I was a junior in high school, playing at the highest level of baseball that there is in Jupiter, Florida. I had the eyes of 60 coaches from 60 of the most renowned educational institutions in the country. This was the Headfirst Baseball Showcase for kids with good grades, who are looking to pursue their baseball career through college.
I remember sitting in a white chair surrounded by people who looked just like me, listening to this man with a full baseball uniform. I admired this man. He was everything that I ever want to be and more. He had achieved his dream of playing for Stanford University, and then went on to play as a professional. As he was talking to me there was one phrase that sort of sat with me. “I wasn’t good enough to play anymore, my career was over, but there was one thing that they couldn’t take away from me, my Stanford degree.” As he said this he pointed to his back pocket, as if he literally had it with him at all times. I had never thought about it this way before. To me education and sports belonged together. This may have been because of my privileged backround or possibly just the way that I was raised but either way, his speech made me think differently about how high school and college sports should be played and how much they should be incorporated into academics.
This brought me back to my school. Saint Paul Central High, where everyone is required to take a gym class, and football is at the center of attention. Although we are one of the most culturally diverse schools in the country, we are also one of the poorest, and we have many kids that live in poverty. For many of these kids, sports is what keeps them out of trouble and determined to stay in school. An article was written a few years ago in the Atlantic by Eleanor Barkhorn titled “Athletes Are More Likely to Finish High School Than Non-Athletes.” She talked about a study conducted at the University of Kansas. They found that in 2012, 98 percent of athletes graduated, while only 90 percent of non-athletes graduated. These numbers have since grown, and can be seen throughout the country in both high schools and colleges.
The overwhelming majority of current high school combines are done specifically for football players. This is because of the high participation in football, the amount of money that is being poured into high school football programs, and the attention that each one gets from their school. For most schools in the United States football is the most important sport, and their teams and fields recieve the most money. This also means that more people go to their events, and they recieve more attention from college scouts. If just some of this money could be taken away from the football fund and put towards other sports, I believe that thousands of kids across the country would have a higher chance of achieving their dream of playing a sport in college.
The argument that a combine would just take resources away from the academic part of the school is almost a very solid argument. The one thing that this does not take into account is the fact that having extracaricular activities in high school motivates kids to come. This is not just my opinion, it has been back up by many well known researchers and studies. When a student needs to earn their way onto a high school team by coming to school every day, they tend to come to school and pay attention more.
Although many kids do not have enough money to go to college and achieve their dream, a high school combine would allow college scouts to come and find kids who are willing to work hard on and off of the field. It is a fact that most college coaches are looking for kids who can handle adversity, who have an intrinsic drive, and who are good at handling contructive criticism. The recent article “What College Sports Recruiters Can Teach Your Child” published by The New York Times highlights some of these things and gives examples from college coaches at different levels from around the country.
Overall student athletes have higher graduation rates, and more of a desire to come to school. A nation-wide high school combine would put kids through the college sports system who have never had the opportunity before, and it would help keep kids in school.
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