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Too Much Sports In High School?

A Belmont High School athlete. Picture taken sometime between 1934 - 1956 from the Leslie Jones Collection at the Boston Public Library.

A Belmont High School athlete. Picture taken sometime between 1934 – 1956 from the Leslie Jones Collection at the Boston Public Library.

In his 1910 essay on “The American Boy“, Theodore Roosevelt wrote about the value of athletics, specifically football, and the lessons that sports can teach. He said, “in life, as in a football game, the principal to follow is: hit the ground hard; don’t foul and don’t shirk, but hit the line hard.” Words to live by for millions of American high school athletes.

Or maybe not. Because those words provoke a question: what is the value of high-school sports? Before you answer, consider this: unlike most countries worldwide, the United States spends more tax dollars per high-school athlete than it does per high school math student. And we wonder why we lag in international education rankings?

That’s how writer Amanda Ripley begins a recent and provocative piece for the The Atlantic, entitled, “The Case Against High-School Sports“. She argues that compared to many other industrialized countries, American schools spend far too much money and time on sports; resources that could be spent on actual classroom learning. It’s a controversial argument, but do you think she might be right?


Amanda Ripley, writer and author of the new book, “The Smartest Kids In The World And How They Got That Way.”

Dan Lebowitz, Executive Director of the “Sport in Society” Center at Northeastern University.

Other stories from this show:

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  • Kathy

    Nothing would improve our schools more than eliminating all school sports from high school to college.

  • Allyson Forrister

    I felt there was too big an emphasis on sports when I was in high school….I also didn’t play sports, though.

  • jsallen

    I’m recalling my high school and college years when the athletic department was almost entirely oriented toward intermural team sports, and the gym classes for students who aere not on the teams were only a sort of afterthought — two weeks of running, another two weeks of swimming, etc. — never enough time to develop real skill in any of them. (This was also before Title 9, and women’s athletic programs were even worse.) Through all of this, time, I was riding a bicycle, on my own initiative, and now I still do that, 45 years later. Developing skill in a preferred healthful activity, and lifetime participation, need to be the goals of athletic programs. In response to the man talking now on the program, pride in one’s school can come from realizing that it has led the way to healthy living, for a lifetime.

  • Anne Barrett

    Please forward this to the guest who advocates eliminating sports from high school. We live in an affluent area where attention is paid to students who achieve academically as well as athletically. That’s great for the academically gifted, but my daughter is ADD, and was a middling student throughout elementary and middle school, despite effort and diligence. In this high-achieving environment, her self esteem suffered. Then in high school she joined the cross country and track teams and over the course of her time there became one of the top runners as well as captain her senior year. Her self esteem went up. Her grades continued to be middle-of-the-road even with much persistence on her part, but her achievement in running helped her to get in to a good college that she quite possibly wouldn’t have gotten into otherwise. She has worked hard to achieve the best grades possible for her. She is a college senior now, and I believe that a big part of her success was brought about through her athletic achievement. I think her life would be much different today had she not had the opportunity to excel where SHE was gifted; running cross country and track.

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