Money spent on pro sports could instead help save kids activities from cuts
by: L.E. BASKOW, Marshall High School’s Erick Villalba (7) slices in to take control of the ball ahead of Cleveland High School’s Simon Harris, with Harris’ teammate, Joe Owen (right), moving in to help. A Tigard school administrator writes that high school sports and other activities might suffer dire cuts this year because of the bad economy.

Like most local sports fans in the Portland area, I have watched with amusement the recent discussion around bringing Major League Soccer to Portland.

Amusement because it seems we can find time, energy and finances to add a professional sports franchise to a city and state that does not support high school sports and activities to a similar degree. Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden was quoted in his book, 'They Call Me Coach': 'When we are out of sympathy with the young, then our work in this world is truly over.'

Promises of increased financial impact on the city from MLS not withstanding, I am not sure the average citizen is aware or concerned enough about the impact that our financial situation statewide will have on school districts cutting key activity and athletic programs.

Athletic and activity programs keep students engaged in school, learning invaluable life lessons and giving students a chance to connect positively to adult role models. There are discussions under way in most school districts statewide about how to limit or eliminate funding for critical programs like athletics, band, choir, drama and clubs. These programs are not extracurricular but co-curricular, and for most students involved in them, as critical to their high school success as any class they are taking.

What are the benefits of co-curricular activities?

Let me focus on three for a moment: First, activities support the academic mission of schools. They are not a diversion, but rather an extension of a good educational program. Students who participate in activity programs tend to have higher grade-point averages, better attendance records, lower dropout rates and fewer discipline problems than other students generally. Talk about a positive economic impact on a city and state.

Second, activities are inherently educational. Activity programs provide valuable lessons for practical situations - teamwork, sportsmanship, winning and losing and hard work. Through participation in activity programs, students learn self-discipline, build self-confidence and develop skills to handle competitive situations. These are qualities the public expects schools to produce in students so that they become responsible adults and productive citizens.

Third, activities foster success in later life. Participation in high school activities is often a predictor of later success - in college, a career and becoming a contributing member of society.

It is hard to meet someone who was not impacted significantly by some co-curricular program while in high school. For many people, it was the opportunity to use their gifts and connect positively with an adult that helped them move toward adulthood.

These programs are in danger of being severely limited or eliminated due to our recent funding crisis. These activities continue to have their very existence chipped away, year by year, and the results will be disastrous if allowed to continue.

Where do professional athletes start their progress toward their lofty goals? It usually starts in middle or high school as a physical education teacher or coach begins to encourage and teach the skills necessary for the dreams of a young person to be awakened and refined. What a shame for those in the wrong income bracket, wrong city or poorly financed school district to not have these incredible life-changing opportunities.

It is amazing that in our economic climate in Oregon at this time, we can find millions to pave the way for professional soccer players to come to Portland. We can remodel facilities that will cost millions. Yet for the many middle school and high school students who will someday be asked to fill that stadium as fans, we can't seem to find adequate funding to make sure their dreams of playing are not taken away.

What if we valued the chance for young people to have a life-changing experience through high school athletics and activities enough that we would find stable year-by-year ways to fund these important programs? What if we valued them as much as we value professional sports in this community and state? That is truly a debate worth having. That is truly something to vote yes for.

Kevin Bryant is the associate principal for athletics and activities at Tigard High School and past president of the Oregon Athletic Directors Association.