High school sports on the way out?

Could high school sports programs eventually be a thing of the past?
Hard to fathom, to be sure, but a very real possibility if you believe Toronto Star columnist David Grossman.
Grossman cites dwindling participation numbers, increasing numbers of injuries to students, and a shortage of certified volunteer coaches as potentially fatal problems for school sports programs right across Canada.
It’s hard to imagine high school sports going by the wayside, especially in smaller communities like Fort Frances, where teams are entwined in the fabric of the community with rich histories on the field, rink, and courts.
Grossman notes funding issues aren’t yet a problem in Ontario, but throughout the United States, and recently in British Columbia, there are concerns about cash shortages forcing the closures of long-standing sports programs.
If keeping sports as an option for high school kids means an additional fee system for parents, it stands to reason that something that’s considered an extracurricular activity could be on the chopping block when compared to necessary expenses like textbooks and school supplies.
Tacking on additional fees to the already present costs of equipment and out-of-town tournaments, including gas, hotels, and meals, could just be too much for the average family to bear.
The average operating budget for the Muskie football team rings in at around $20,000 while a conservative estimate on each hockey team’s expenses for a typical season comes in at $50,000.
Our region has some hard-working volunteer organizations in place to drastically reduce these costs, but there can only be so many hands in everybody’s pockets before people reach their threshold.
“The [Muskie Touchdown Club] is responsible for 85 percent of that or more while 95 percent of the hockey team’s expenses are done by the booster clubs,” Fort High athletic director Shane Bliss had noted in July.
“But the booster clubs are the parents, basically,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily come entirely out of their pocket, but they are the ones that are going to be doing the raffles or fundraising events.
“Over the years, we’ve had some parents who were really motivated to do all kinds of work and then we’ve had other parents who are more content to write a cheque, and to each their own,” Bliss added.
A $125 athletic fee per player applies for most other Muskie teams outside of those three (i.e., football and boys’ and girls’ hockey). The Muskie Sports Association aims to provide supplementary funds on top of that fee for the various sports programs under its umbrella.
But expenses jump to yet another level still when teams qualify for OFSAA, with a potential economic shortfall being averted by the Muskie boys’ hockey team last winter with the help of a Bingo at Couchiching.
Certainly there’s no questioning the benefits sports provide for teens, but the question is whether or not those pros will outweigh the financial cons forever?
Being a part of a team affords students the opportunity to interact with fellow peers and coaches. Further still, the challenges and lessons of winning and losing carry over into the workplace in later years.
Sports also offer teens a physical outlet to exert their troubles while keeping them off the street.
To be honest, there is no other time in your life where you have so many options academically and athletically. But Grossman is right in his assessment that fewer and fewer teens are taking advantage of these outlets.
I, for one, regret my general lack of participation while attending high school in the earlier part of this decade. I wanted nothing to do with school once that final bell rang. I guess I felt it was a long enough day as it was.
But some kids are fully engaged in school spirit and do participate in school activities outside of the classroom, but they seem to be the minority rather than the norm these days.
Part of the problem might be the growing number of distractions students have outside of school, with online gaming a relatively new phenomenon but an especially popular one.
It’s sure easier to perfect your tackling technique from the couch on “Madden 2010” when compared to busting your hump four-five nights a week at Muskie Field under the watchful eye of demanding coaches.
But does that mean teens are lazier now than what they used to be pre-2000? What has changed?
Does the “back when I was a kid” argument hold much weight here? Have kids’ attitudes towards sports and hard work really changed that much?
I can’t say for certain that numbers are down overall here in Fort Frances and across Rainy River District, but the early-season attendance numbers for the Muskie football team may be a telling statistic.
That said, tryouts for the Muskie girls’ and boys’ hockey teams drew healthy numbers—consistent with tryout numbers of yesteryear.
Maybe the distractions are less severe here than what a teenager may encounter in a big market like Toronto? Does that suggest kids are more inclined to participate in sports here?
Enough rambling from me, though. Do you think high school sports will always have a place in communities like this one?

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