To the editor:

As a parent of two West Plains schools students, I received the email from Dr. Wilson, which addressed in part, the Missouri School Board Association (MSBA) recommended safety guidelines for the reopening of schools this fall. Dr. Wilson assured us that the district has no intention of discontinuing extracurricular activities.

While most of the recipients likely were relieved to hear this news, I was disappointed. When the MSBA released the recommendations, and I had a chance to look over them, I had thought that the COVID-19 situation could hold a silver lining for our schools: A shift in the right direction, to education over sports.

The United States routinely spends more tax dollars per high school athlete than per high school math student—unlike most countries worldwide. It’s no wonder the U.S. lags in international education rankings. Our current administration is concerned about our Education – surprisingly enough. "The bottom line is there has not been a single study that shows American education is improving enough," Betsy DeVos said in a statement. "Scores have flatlined for a decade. Worse yet, scores for our most vulnerable students continue to decline. We are being outpaced not only by our global competitors like China and Russia, but also by countries like Estonia, Finland and Canada."

Like most other Americans, I can rattle off the many benefits of school sports: exercise, lessons in sportsmanship and perseverance, discipline, school pride, and — not to be overlooked — just for fun. Those things could easily come from elsewhere, and don’t you wonder about the trade-offs we make?

Imagine, for a moment, if Americans transferred our obsessive intensity about high-school sports — the rankings, the trophies, the ceremonies, the pride — to high-school academics. We would look not so different from South Korea, or Japan, or any of a handful of countries whose hypercompetitive, pressure-cooker approach to academics in many ways mirrors the American approach to sports.

Both approaches can be dysfunctional; both set kids up for stress and disappointment. The difference is that 93% of South Korean students graduate from high school, compared with just 77% of American students — and only about 2% of high school graduates receive athletic scholarships to college, in case you’ve put that in your mental argument for keeping high school sports.

I’ve seen arguments that suspending sports would mean loss of revenue. But would it, really? How much is spent on athletic supplies? Insurance, that must be expensive. Referees, bus drivers, coaches, field maintenance – do you know the cost of these things? I sure don’t.

My daughter spent her entire sophomore year of high school away from WPHS – studying abroad in Germany as an exchange student. Her experience in their educational system solidified my opinion of school extracurricular activities. Shorter days, with only academics being taught, left students better rested, and inarguably better educated, (you can Google that) – with plenty of time after school for sports/art/music – all sponsored by programs much like our Optimist club and YMCA, but on a grander scale.

Also, not that it should matter, but I was a Junior Varsity and Varsity athlete, and played an instrument in the band. My daughter has participated in cheerleading and been in a couple of plays. My son would have started Coach Pitch this summer with the Optimist Club. We like sports.

The benefits of sports wouldn’t go away, just because they aren’t paid for by the school. The YMCA, Optimist club, many others that I’m not aware of that put together teams – these would invariably increase to suit demand. Sports are here to stay, but should they stay in schools? Perhaps this coming year we SHOULD cut back on sports and other extracurriculars – not only due to the MSBA recommendations, but to see how much money is saved, and go into the future with a better idea of how we could shift sports to other entities, and let school focus on learning.

Sarah Wittenauer

West Plains

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