Between the Lines: Winning in so many ways

The topic is relevant, and no, it's not about the weather.

After witnessing the Tanager girls basketball team claim the Region 4A championship in Beresford last night, I began thinking of what often is heard expressed by some taxpayers who are convinced that public schools spend too much of their money.

You know the type. You probably run into some of these folks quite often. It's not unusual for them to hold court on nearly a daily basis at their local coffee klatches, where, again, on a daily basis, they solve all of the world's problems by the time they've all finished their second cup of Joe for that afternoon.

Some of these problem solvers are certain that school activities are a huge drain of our public resources. The budgets for the various high school and middle school athletic teams, Rhythm in Red and other local school vocal and band groups, the debate team, the theatre, etc. are certainly, in their minds, astronomical. It doesn't matter that they never bother to actually make an inquiry of the superintendent of how much of the total school budget is devoted to extracurricular activities.

It would ruin all of their fun to discover how flawed their arguments are.

Someone did actually go the trouble to discover what benefits, if any, high school athletics has on those who participate in them. Her name is Anita N. Lee, a doctoral student in physical education at Springfield College, Springfield, MA.

I'm about to cite portions of her study. It's a bit technical, but try not to get bogged down in all of the information I'm about to throw your way. Here goes:

"Physical educators and parents encourage students to be involved in different types of athletic programs. But when physical educators, coaches, and administrators promote athletic programs to students and parents, do they really know all of the benefits of school athletic participation? What types of athletic programs are more beneficial to high school students for their schooling and personal development?

Marsh and Kleitman (2003) examined the effects of athletic participation on growth and change during high school by using data from the National Education Longitudinal Study database (National Center for Educational Statistics [NCES], 1996). The total number of participants in the study was 12,084, collected over six years throughout the nation.

Students in grade eight (before high school), grade 10 (during high school), grade 12 (end of high school), and postsecondary settings (two years after high school) were asked for information regarding athletic participation in school. The questions covered individual and team sports, extramural and intramural activities, and students' backgrounds and schooling outcomes. The well-executed study used proper methodology for controlling background information and parallel outcomes in the analysis.

The data covered standardized test scores, academic grades, Carnegie units, homework, television watching, attendance, locus of control, general self-esteem, parental expectations, educational aspirations, occupational aspirations, staying out of trouble, and school preparation among other topics.

The questions for postsecondary students were related only to the number of months unemployed, university enrollment, number of months in the university, educational aspirations, occupational aspirations, and the highest education level attained. Marsh and Kleitman (2003) indicated that school athletic participation benefited 20 out of the 21 schooling outcomes – represented by grade 12 and postsecondary outcomes – including academic grades, coursework selection, homework, educational and parental aspirations, self-esteem, number of university applications, subsequent college enrollment, educational and occupational aspirations, and highest educational level attained.

Standardized test scores were the only outcome that did not benefit from athletic participation. This was consistent for the participants throughout their high school years."

Lee's research, and studies completed by others, find, once again, that high school athletics benefits students in just about every way one could possibly want. Academic grades. Homework. Aspirations. Self-esteem. And on and on.

In less than a week, the Tanagers girls basketball squad will be traveling to Spearfish to compete in the state tournament. The naysayers will likely point to the interruption in studies, the cost of the travel, the expense of putting on a three-day athletic event.

We all know better. It will be nice if the squad comes back with a championship trophy. If they don't, however, we already know they, and their cohorts in other school activities, are already winning in so many ways.

Good luck, Tanagers!

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