Sports have been integral to American education for more than a century, with many believing that athletics supplement or even enhance academics. In recent years, budgetary considerations and other factors have forced many public schools in the United States to curtail their sporting activities, but this may actually be a good thing for academia.
It was a financial crisis that led to the elimination of the athletic program at Premont High School in Texas. This marked a dramatic reversal from the trend in establishing team sports in U.S. schools, a tradition that itself came out of concern that American-born students could not stand up physically to the immigrants who were at the time flooding into the country. More about the history of team sports in the American educational system is available at www.reddit.com/r/education.
In other countries, athletics had already taken a back seat to academic studies. Although many European children play sports at clubs, their activities are removed from their daily schooling. Many children in South Korea play soccer, but their teams meet at lunchtime and are not financially supported by their schools. Many American schools, in contrast, have invested heavily in their sporting programs, but the country has paid the price in other ways. Students in South Korea rank fourth in terms of math scores, or 27 positions ahead of American students.
Some believe that, in addition to providing physical exercise, sports help students in their academic and personal lives. However, this theory was not supported by what took place at Premont High School. The school superintendent noted that the year after the abolition of sports was the most “peaceful” he had ever experienced. Without the distraction of sports, the emphasis was on academic planning and achievement. At the end of the first semester without sports, some 80 percent of the students passed their classes, an increase of 30 percent over the previous year. According to the school’s principal, misbehavior on the part of the students was also down and parent interest greatly up.
Premont has been able to resume some athletic activities that are less expensive, such as basketball and soccer, but its football team never came back. However, one of the team’s cheerleaders was still able to serve her school, this time as class valedictorian.