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JOHN EGGERS COLUMN: Is it time to make sports curricular?

John Eggers

Have you ever heard an athlete say, "I learned just as much or more on the basketball court as I did in the classroom?" I've heard this many times, "If it were not for sports, I would have dropped out of school."

It's Minnesota high school tournament time and if you are like I am, I try not to miss too many tournament games. There's something about high school sports that still brings back all of those "Friday night lights" memories.

We used to play our basketball tournament games in a huge Quonset-like building with a raised floor in St. Peter on the campus of Gustavus Adolphus. Before I made varsity, we had a couple of fan buses that took us to the games. The cost was 20 cents. It was the best of times because I always sat with my girlfriend. After I made the varsity team, I wondered if I had made the right decision.

Coming from a small community, sports were everything—even better than hunting ducks or fishing bullheads. They made school the best place to be. If it were not for sports, I would have found school to be kind of boring. Of course, there were always the girls.

Sports meant a lot to me as they did for most boys. It's a shame there were not organized sports for girls at the time.

Let me bring up an age-old argument. Why don't we consider sports as "curricular" activities right alongside algebra and American history? I think we can make a pretty good case for them.

We know lots of learning takes place that you don't necessarily get in the classroom. In the area of character building, participating in sports is one of the best places to do it. In fact, you can actually see character learning in action. In sports it's almost impossible not to learn something about what kind of person you are. Teams who practice outstanding character traits are winning teams.

Even though there are many individual sports like skiing, wrestling and tennis, teamwork is still taught. Teamwork—where would a well-functioning organization be without teamwork? We criticize our men and women in Washington because they cannot work like a team and get things done. We talk about the effectiveness of a president in terms of whether he can get people to work together.

Sports are all about people working together. Coaches are experts at providing the right kind of leadership to get players to work as a team. I have often wondered why classroom teachers shouldn't use the same strategies for getting their students to think of themselves as a second-grade team, sixth-grade team or a biology team.

Sports teach kids to care about one another. I am thinking of the University of Minnesota men's basketball team this year, where a mother of one of the players passed away during the season. There was an overwhelming show of support for the player who was undergoing some hard times. His teammates were genuinely concerned about his well-being. Coaches know that players who care about each other are more likely to win.

The truth is, students learn a lot by playing sports. What would be wrong in treating sports as a curricular activity and giving students a credit for playing football, basketball, track or tennis? The credit could be applied towards graduation. It might solve a few of education's biggest problems.

There is now legislative discussion about teaching hunting, including gun safety, and fishing in the physical education classes.

So, why give credit toward graduation? For me, the first thing that comes to mind is that more kids would stay in school because the sports' grade might be enough to keep them on track to graduate. What's better—getting a "B" in algebra or a "B" in football? My wife says "algebra" but I disagree.

Second, we would finally admit that school is not just about reading and writing, it's also about character building and teamwork and learning to care for others. Sports are a fantastic teacher.

Third, many "at-risk" kids whose gift it might be to play basketball or football or run track would finally see a reason to stick around.

Fourth, it just makes common sense. Students who want to make a career of sports may be more likely to go on to college and major in a sports management related field. Getting some good grades in high school sports would be a good motivator for them to continue on to college. As we all know, there is money in sports and lots of job opportunities.

Students would find schools more interesting if we treated sports as a curricular activity. We would see more participation, higher graduation rates and more kids going on to college. Some school should try it and get the ball rolling.

Riddle: Why did all of the bowling pins lie down? (They were on strike.) Fewer students would lie down in school if sports were considered curricular activities.

100 percent graduation

A local movement is underway to ensure the area has a 100 percent high school graduation rate. These tips will increase the likelihood that students will stay in school.

1. Parents, who else provides support for your children besides you? The more support children have, the more likely they are to graduate.

2. When children see parents smile, the more children will smile. It's difficult to think less of yourself when you are smiling.

3. When parents are seen as partners in the learning process, they are more likely to get involved.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.