Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

For some middle school kids, sports lead to growth

The whole idea of school finally seems to make sense to my youngest son.

There's a payoff now, a reason to work on his math, science and punctuation. The results have been almost miraculous, really. Suddenly, as a seventh-grader, most of his sentences actually begin with capital letters and end with periods.

All because he made the tennis team at Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics.

Okay, his excellent teachers deserve some credit — and the fact that they've made sure to tell us when we needed to crack the whip at home.

But the biggest change in his work and behavior came after he made the team, earned the right to play in every match and got some encouragement from his coach. It probably helped that Challenger slaughtered every other school.

(Amazing, isn't it, that the school with the highest concentration of middle-class kids dominates in tennis?)

It's not bribery that has kept him in line, though, yes, we've reminded him a few times that he can't play unless he keeps his grades up.

It's what sports do to that breed of kid who lives for them and not much else. Some of his false confidence — the chest-beating kind — has been replaced with the real thing. And all of those dismal academics periods are a lot more bearable for him when they lead up to a practice at the end of the day or, even better, a match.

Though I wouldn't know firsthand, I imagine it's the same for children who love music or art. Sure, some extracurricular stars — athletes especially — get arrogant and complacent. But, generally, happier kids are better kids. Give them a chance to excel at what they love and they grow in other ways, too.

Which is why I'm glad the Hernando School Board wants to keep middle school sports.

The district seems to be heading toward a program similar to Pasco's, where middle school athletes are charged $45 for the first sport, $30 for the second, with a cap of $75 per student and $120 per family each school year. Schools must raise money for students who can't afford to pay, said David Schoelles, Hernando's curriculum supervisor for middle schools.

It's certainly fair to ask parents to chip in. And the cost won't be an obstacle for our son or, probably, most other Challenger students, only 27 percent of whom were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches last year. But at Fox Chapel Middle School, for example, that figure is 68 percent. There will be more athletes who need financial help, and fewer parents who can afford to buy candy bars or whatever else the school sells to raise money.

We've already got a divide between haves and have-nots in this district. So, this is one thing we've got to watch out for — that pay-to-play doesn't make the gap even wider.

Remember, also, that middle schools have already cut electives and extracurricular activities, shifting resources to satisfy requirements for smaller class sizes and remedial instruction.

So we should also be on guard against schools with such narrow curriculums that kids tune out. I'm not saying that sports are as important as reading or writing, or the jobs of people who teach these subjects.

It's just that it was nice to hear my son, the other day, say he couldn't wait to get to school.

For some middle school kids, sports lead to growth 03/06/10 [Last modified: Saturday, March 6, 2010 10:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Search under way for missing sailors; Navy chief orders inquiry


    SINGAPORE — The U.S. Navy ordered a broad investigation Monday into the performance and readiness of the Pacific-based 7th Fleet after the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker in Southeast Asian waters, leaving 10 U.S. sailors missing and others injured.

    Damage is visible as the USS John S. McCain steers toward Singapore’s naval base on Monday.
  2. Told not to look, Donald Trump looks at the solar eclipse


    Of course he looked.

    Monday's solar eclipse — life-giving, eye-threatening, ostensibly apolitical — summoned the nation's First Viewer to the Truman Balcony of the White House around 2:38 p.m. Eastern time.

    The executive metaphor came quickly.

    President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump view the solar eclipse from the Truman balcony of the White House, in Washington, Aug. 21, 2017. [Al Drago | New York Times]
  3. Secret Service says it will run out of money to protect Trump and his family Sept. 30


    WASHINGTON — The Secret Service said Monday that it has enough money to cover the cost of protecting President Donald Trump and his family through the end of September, but after that the agency will hit a federally mandated cap on salaries and overtime unless Congress intervenes.

    Secret service agents walk with President Donald Trump after a ceremony to welcome the 2016 NCAA Football National Champions the Clemson Tigers on the South Lawn of the White House on June 12, 2017. [Olivier Douliery | Sipa USA via TNS]
  4. After fraught debate, Trump to disclose new Afghanistan plan


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will unveil his updated Afghanistan policy Monday night in a rare, prime-time address to a nation that broadly shares his pessimism about American involvement in the 16-year conflict. Although he may send a few thousand more troops, there are no signs of a major shift in …

    U.S. soldiers patrol the perimeter of a weapons cache near the U.S. military base in Bagram, Afghanistan in 2003. Sixteen years of U.S. warfare in Afghanistan have left the insurgents as strong as ever and the nation's future precarious. Facing a quagmire, President Donald Trump on Monday will outline his strategy for a country that has historically snared great powers and defied easy solutions.  [Associated Press (2003)]
  5. Trial begins for man accused of threatening to kill Tampa federal judge


    TAMPA — Jason Jerome Springer was in jail awaiting trial on a firearms charge when he heard inmates talking about a case that had made the news.

    His attorney said Jason Jerome Springer, 39, just talked, and there was “no true threat.”