14Editor’s Note: Coach Lee Crisp is an educator and coach at San Antonio’s Clark High School. Coach Crisp graduated from Castroville Medina Valley high school, where he played football, basketball and ran track. Coach Crisp attended Texas A&M University, where he graduated with a BA in English. Crisp is a 12-year coaching veteran

Someone recently shared an article with me that posed the question, “Want to save money for the school districts? How about dropping sports programs?” As a coach in Texas public schools, this was an intriguing hook. I couldn’t believe someone would actually suggest getting rid of sports in order to save money.

The author argues that football in particular was introduced into high schools as a way to lure the farm boys into the school house to receive an education they would have otherwise shunned. The author also states that sports have grown to take up a large chunk of school budgets, as well as student’s time. In the author’s scenario, eliminating athletics will not only save taxpayers money, but improve the students’ education as well. What a load of garbage.

Let’s examine the claim that athletics has grown to take up a large portion of school budgets. According to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), in the 2009-2010 school year, extracurricular activities were responsible for 2.4% of district’s operating expenses. This percentage includes all extracurricular activities, of which athletics specifically is only a portion. Now, I’m not a math whiz, but I wouldn’t consider a fraction of 2.4% of anything a “large chunk.”

When we look at the average cost of extracurricular activities for districts in Texas on a per student basis, TEA states that extracurricular activities came out to around $157 per student during the 09-10 school year. This is in sharp contrast to the $787 per student that was spent the same school year on programs supporting underachieving students. I realize that this data is five years old, but in the past five years Texas public schools have made drastic cuts across the board in operating expenditures, athletics being no exception.

There’s really no arguing that public schools in Texas are doing more with less. Yes, it costs money to sponsor athletics in our schools, but the cost of athletics is a drop in the bucket when compared to the overall operating costs of running a district. The cost of maintaining a transportation department alone dwarfs the cost of sports. And of all the expenditures that a district has, athletics has the largest return on investment.

I can’t argue that eliminating athletics wouldn’t save our school districts some money. If we get rid of credit recovery programs and buying textbooks we could save some money there as well. However, I think we can agree that doing away with credit recovery and textbooks wouldn’t be in the best interest of our students, and the same is true for athletics. When we talk about cutting sports, there are non-monetary costs that outweigh the monetary savings.

I am a coach, but in the great state of Texas, our coaches are required to be teachers as well. Personally, I like to think of myself as an educator rather than a teacher and a coach, because whether I’m on the field or in the classroom, I’m educating. My job is to prepare my students for whatever life they will choose to lead post-graduation. This, to me, means teaching life skills as well as academics.

When teachers are in the classroom, we often hear the question, “Why do I have to know this?” It’s hard to explain to a freshman what the value of learning Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is. To be honest, for anyone not planning to enroll in a university after high school, Romeo and Juliet may hold no value whatsoever. There is, however, value in the lesson.

When asked, “Why do I have to know this,” I tell my students, it’s not about the information we’re covering, but the work involved that is important. We are educating kids, trying to increase their knowledge in order for them to become well-rounded citizens when they leave high school.

But many of the lessons we are teaching have less to do with academics and more to do with being able to function in society. These life skills can be taught in the classroom, but in my experience, the skills needed to cope with life after high school can be more readily learned through athletics.

Participating in sports, specifically team sports, allows players to learn how to work together to achieve a common goal, how to develop leadership, how to know when to follow, how to overcome adversity, how to win with grace and lose with dignity, how to take criticism, how to improve on shortcomings, how to develop mental fortitude, and the list goes on. As an adult, I know that I’ve put the lessons I’ve learned on the field to use on an almost daily basis. These skills have helped me in my role as a husband and father, they’ve aided me in coping with struggles at work, and they’ve helped me to overcome the obstacles that life in general has put in my way.

I’d love to think that the students that are sitting in the desks in my classroom are picking up all of these lessons, because it is important to me that they are prepared. But I know that, even if my students are learning these lessons, it is not to the same degree of my athletes.

Education is all about the investment of those to be educated. We’ve all heard the phrase, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” How do we get our students to drink the water? When it comes to investment, athletes, as well as any other student involved in something outside of the classroom, have something that our “traditional” students don’t have. When a student sacrifices their free time outside of school in pursuit of something they have an interest in, they become invested in their education.

“In general, high school athletes have higher passing rates in the classroom…”

By instituting No Pass, No Play, the UIL has put in place a safeguard to ensure that the students involved in activities governed by the UIL are invested in their education. As a coach, I see athletics as a tool to help athletes understand the importance of their classroom education in their post-graduate life, and it’s an effective tool to help motivate students that would otherwise lack motivation in the classroom.

In general, high school athletes have higher passing rates in the classroom as well as on standardized tests than traditional students. This academic achievement disparity becomes more pronounced in the “at risk” and “low socio-economic status” sub-populations in schools. These two sub-populations traditionally struggle to meet state standards with regard to standardized testing, the measuring stick by which districts are graded. A district’s rating of acceptable or unacceptable can, and often does, come down to the performance of a single sub-population’s performance on standardized tests.

Athletics is a powerful motivator for students that fall into these categories, and those that are involved, are more apt to focus on their performance in the classroom in order to participate in the activity they’ve worked so hard to be in. In this regard, athletics can be as effective as any program in place to aid underachieving students, a beneficial side-effect that would be lost if athletics is cut from schools.

Another beneficial side-effect of athletic participation is reflected in athletes’ daily attendance versus that of traditional students. In the majority of schools in Texas, being involved in athletics means having a class period during the day devoted to that sport a student is participating in. These are year-round classes, where students can earn their required PE credit, but these classes also serve as practice times in season, and off-season periods when out of season.

If you’ve been in many locker rooms, you may have come across a saying, “If you miss one workout, you know it. If you miss two, your teammates know it. If you miss three, your opponent knows it.” Attendance at practices, whether it be during the season, or in the offseason, is important to the participating athlete if they want to be a player.

In athletics, make-up work doesn’t really exist, if you miss, you fall behind. There are no remediation classes for athletics; you get out what you put in. Athletes understand this, and their desire to help their team achieve a common goal, along with their desire to become the best that they can be, are huge motivating factors in an athlete’s attendance at school. This motivation isn’t something that a traditional student possesses.

The accountability factor in a classroom setting is nowhere near that of an athletic environment. In class, a student is accountable to themselves and their own grades. In athletics, athletes are accountable to themselves, their teammates and their coaches.

So how is attendance a money issue? Districts receive much of their funding for operation based on the average daily attendance of the students. For each student present at school, the district receives money. When students are not present, the district loses money. All districts base teacher and resource allocations upon attendance projections for the upcoming school year. When students miss school, or drop out, the allocations are thrown off, and the district doesn’t receive the funding it had projected it would need to operate for the school year, possibly creating a deficit.

For this reason, school districts are willing to spend money on salaries for employees such as truancy officers to make sure the students make it to class. Well, when students are part of a team, they possess an intrinsic motivation to attend school. I think it’s easy to see how sponsoring athletics helps increase the revenue of a school district through attendance.

My final argument in the case for high school athletics has less to do with money, and more to do with community. It seems to me that as a society we have become somewhat obsessed with money, power and politics, and I sincerely believe that we have lost focus on what is really important in life. I had the privilege to grow up in a relatively small Texas town, a town that I eventually returned to when I decided it was time for me to raise a family. Probably the largest motivating factor in deciding to return home to raise my kids was community.

In my memories of high school, this sense of community was tied closely to high school athletics. I remember Friday nights as a young man, going to the stadium to watch our high school football team take on the team from the neighboring town, and regardless of the opponent, I remember seeing the home side bleacher being full to bursting. If it was a particularly bitter rival, it was standing room only. The entire community came out to support the team, whether it was a good season or not. My dad took us to these games, and we didn’t even know the boys on the field.

I remember baseball games where the bleachers were full, and pickup trucks lined the outfield. When I got ready for school, picking clothes was easy because I just had to choose which spirit shirt I would wear that day. As students we bled our colors, and so did the rest of the town. Our athletes were our champions that carried the banners of our pride and our identity.

I want my children to experience the same feelings that I remember growing up, to celebrate and suffer with the victories and losses of our teams. So, can we save a little money for the schools and the tax payers if we just cut out athletics? Sure. But while we may get back a little money, is it really worth the cost?

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