Athletes: Support interscholastic participation first!
Dear Editor,I never thought that it would come to the point where I felt the need to address this issue publicly. But after eight years of personal frustration, and in the interest of the athletic programs at our local high schools and middle schools, I need to say a few words. I arrived in Glenwood Springs in 1994 hoping to find a place that I could call home, to start my teaching career, educate the young people about the benefits of physical activity, and to promote participation in interscholastic athletics. From the very beginning I became aware that the latter was going to be an uphill struggle. That spring I was assistant coach for the Glenwood Springs High School girls’ track and field team. We had just six young ladies on the team only one year after winning Glenwood Springs’ last state championship of any kind. Naturally, Coach Cook and I were frustrated but committed ourselves to doing the best job that we could. We were preparing to compete in our first meet that season when four of the six girls said that they could not go to the meet because they had a club volleyball tournament.Well, it is now 2002 and the athletes are continuing to ignore the interscholastic sports offered in the public schools. My intent is not to place blame upon an entity or organization, the parents, coaches or kids, nor to complain about the lack of physical activity among our youth. I simply would like to reinforce the positive aspects related to playing for your school.I have always stated first and foremost that in the interest of their health, the kids should make the effort to be involved in something active. School sports, club sports, parks and recreation activities are all beneficial and so much better than doing nothing at all. However, among those young people that choose to participate, it seems that the club sports are taking priority over the interscholastic activities. The student-athletes are under the impression that they need to spend as much time as possible playing that one sport. Although some may disagree, I feel strongly that a better athlete will be developed through participation in a variety of sports and activities. This “one sport” mentality often leads to burn out and injury and denies the athletes the opportunity to expand their horizons, work with different athletes and coaches, and again, participate for their school.This week, the track coach at Glenwood Springs Middle School approached me to say that there are only seven boys and six girls out for the eighth-grade team. The seventh-grade team reflects a similar drop in numbers compared to the 60 or 70 that the whole program typically fields. As I begin to ask the kids why they are not out there competing for their school, the responses are painfully similar: club baseball, club soccer, or club volleyball. Now before you fire back reminding me that I, too, am a club coach: When I accepted the position, it was with the stipulation that it would be summer only and never interfere with an interscholastic season.The point of all of this rambling is that I would like for each and every one of you to think about the decision before dismissing the sports offered at the high school or middle school level. Examples of the positive benefits of interscholastic participation are all around you. Many of our great leaders competed for their institutions. Talk with your parents and grandparents about the valuable lessons they learned, the relationships they developed, and the character developed as a result of competing for their school. The school becomes a more positive environment as well when its student body is participating in the programs offered there. School pride is a tremendous force.In 1985, my high school was named as having the “outstanding athletic program” in the state of California. You ask the principal of 20-plus years and he will tell you that never has the school environment been more positive than in that year, despite the many negative influences such as gang activity that frequently threaten schools. The pride in the athletic programs and resulting pride in the school will take the students, teachers, and administration to new and greater levels. From what I have been told, Glenwood Springs High School is not far removed from that type of success and environment. Please, every student and every parent of a student who aspires to participate in athletics, turn the focus back to the interscholastic sports. Work to bring back the days of the “3-sport athlete.” Remind your son of the pride felt for and by the high school student that participated for his school in football, basketball, and baseball. Talk to your daughter about accomplishing the goal of lettering in volleyball, swimming, and track and field. Whatever the sports of choice are, be proud to say that you accomplished this feat for your school and community.The schools offer all of the sports that the kids say they are playing throughout the year. The foundation is there within this environment to shape your children into quality adults. The coaches and administrators make a commitment to “emphasize the proper ideals of sportsmanship, ethical conduct and fair play as they relate to the lifetime impact on the participants” (2001-2002 CHSAA Handbook). Not all privately funded organizations can promise this for your son or daughter. Just read the newspapers.For those athletes and parents who continue to seek the benefits of more participation in an activity through a club sport, let’s do all we can as community members to allow the kids to continue to participate and represent their school without interference. As a coach and athletic director, I often ask the club coaches to adjust the practice schedule to accommodate the middle school or high school sport. More cooperation and continued communication will be a step in the right direction. To demonstrate my commitment to the cause, I will take a leave of absence as head coach of the Glenwood Springers Track Club in support of interscholastic athletics. In one year’s time, if I am encouraged by what I see, I will return to do what I love and what I came here to do: educate the young people of this community in the value of physical activity and athletic participation – interscholastic participation.Sincerely,Blake RisnerPhysical Education Teacher, GSMSAthletic Director, GSMSBoy’s Basketball Coach, GSMSBoy’s Track & Field Coach, GSHSHead Coach, Glenwood Springers Track Club
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