National report gives dirt, but little cleanup

On High Schools

High Schools

October 26, 2004|By MILTON KENT

EVERY HOMEOWNER has a neighbor or relative who can see every flaw in their property, from crabgrass in the front lawn to the slightly askew shutter on the side of the house or the humidity-swollen back door. "Helpful Harry" can spot your problems but never seems to have a credible way to solve them.

A glossy, new report on high school athletics from a commission of the National Association of State Boards of Education reads about the same way, in that the group knows and identifies all the hot-button issues, but gives little in the way of specifics about how to fix what's wrong.

The 10-member commission, chaired by Edward L. Root, president of the Maryland State Board of Education, issued 18 recommendations under the title, "Athletics & Achievement: The Report of the NASBE Commission on High School Athletics in an Era of Reform."

The commission, convened in January by the NASBE, seeks to be the high school equivalent to the high-minded Knight Commission, which has sought to clean up college athletics with a series of splashy declarations and warnings about the impending doom that is sure to sweep the nation's campuses.

Indeed, the high school panel warns in its introduction that some of the same ills that have beset the colleges are on their way to high schools, in the form of "unscrupulous agents, mercenary coaches, questionable recruiting practices and extravagant benefits bestowed upon players" if they haven't arrived already, with the fear that even some middle schools are getting in on the fun.

To its credit, the panel wisely hits upon some sound recommendations. One calls upon states, rather than local jurisdictions, to come up with uniform standards for eligibility, whether they be through a set grade point average, passing a certain number of classes or through demonstration that a student is making progress toward a diploma.

Another suggestion calls on states to consider testing and monitoring of the use of performance-enhancing drugs, a worthy goal considering the explosion of steroids on the high school scene.

The panel takes an interesting stand on the growing trend of high school athletes to stick to one sport, calling for coaches to receive professional development programs to "communicate the benefits of multi-sports athletics and the disadvantages of sports specialization." It calls on schools to, among other things, limit the use of school facilities and equipment on in-school sports only - a clear shot at club and AAU teams - as well as to honor multi-sport athletes in a similar fashion as scholar-athletes are at awards banquets.

However, the panel's report, for all its noble intentions, falls flat under the weight of feel-good recommendations. For instance, did the commission really need to suggest that states do more to encourage vocational students to participate in athletics? Or did it really need to urge states to "consider programs that will encourage all students, no matter their various talents, to engage in daily physical activity"? Recommendations like these are right out of the "Do your civic duty and vote," or "Drink milk; it makes you stronger" file. If you didn't already know these things, you probably haven't been paying attention.

The panel also failed to get down on the ground where the games are played and address issues like sportsmanship, where it could have made some recommendations about student and coach conduct on the field. What would the commission suggest, for instance, in an example from last weekend, where one football team, already leading by 28 in the fourth quarter, left one of the area's leading rushers in a game to score on a 4-yard run, while leaving one of the best kickers in the region in the game to kick a meaningless 29-yard field goal just to break a record? Or what should happen when soccer and field hockey teams are posting 15, 17 and 21 goals in games against hopelessly overmatched opponents?

In that vein, the commission also missed a chance to comment on the entire athletic culture, and how the out-of-control nature of college athletics, and the American worship of professional athletes, begins at the high school level. After all, Terrell Owens probably wouldn't have gotten the idea that he is a god on the field, if some high school coach or administrator or parent had set him straight years ago.

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