The Case Against High-School Sports

20130925-111129.jpg“I’ve been in hundreds of classrooms,” says Singleton, who has spent 15 years as a principal and helped turn around other struggling schools. “This was the worst I’ve seen in my career. The kids were in control. The language was filthy. The teachers were not prepared.” By suspending sports, Singleton realized, he could save $150,000 in one year. A third of this amount was being paid to teachers as coaching stipends, on top of the smaller costs: $27,000 for athletic supplies, $15,000 for insurance, $13,000 for referees, $12,000 for bus drivers. “There are so many things people don’t think about when they think of sports,” Singleton told me. Still, he steeled himself for the town’s reaction. “I knew the minute I announced it, it was going to be like the world had caved in on us.”

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That first semester, 80 percent of the students passed their classes, compared with 50 percent the previous fall. About 160 people attended parent-teacher night, compared with six the year before. Principal Ruiz was so excited that he went out and took pictures of the parking lot, jammed with cars. Through some combination of new leadership, the threat of closure, and a renewed emphasis on academics, Premont’s culture changed. “There’s been a definite decline in misbehavior,” says Desiree Valdez, who teaches speech, theater, and creative writing at Premont. “I’m struggling to recall a fight. Before, it was one every couple of weeks.

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That April, after getting approval from her board and faculty, she gathered Spelman’s athletes and coaches in an auditorium and announced that she was going to cancel intercollegiate sports after the spring of 2013, and begin spending that $1 million on a campus-wide health-and-fitness program.

Many of Spelman’s 80 athletes were devastated, needless to say, and it is too early to tell whether the new swim, aerobics, and Zumba classes, among other offerings, will lead to healthier students on campus. But Tatum’s signal was clear: lifelong health habits matter more than expensive, elite sporting competitions with rival schools. One priority has real and lasting benefits; the other is a fantasy. –Amanda Ripley – The Atlantic.