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Politics and the inadequacies of Arkansas sports fans

Thursday, August 7, 2003

First off, I must say that I really don't care much for politics, and I try to keep my political opinions to myself because I realize I have not the time nor the patience required to keep up with, and accurately discuss, such matters as government affairs.

Having said that, I would like to talk a little bit about some comments Gov. Mike Huckabee made last week while addressing the Rotary Club of Fayetteville.

Huckabee, feeling compelled these days to defend his school consolidation plan (Huckabee prefers not to use the "C" word, he calls it an "Education Reform Plan.") that would effect 232 of the state's 308 school districts, decided it was time to drag athletics into the fray.

Trying to put into words why he is facing such an uphill battle with this plan, Gov. Huckabee told the Fayetteville crowd, "Part of the reason I'm finding it such a struggle out there is that some people are more interested in the basketball team and the letter jackets than they are in the long-term success of that student being able to make it." Gov. Huckabee continued by saying, "Part of that is because we still live in a culture where many adults are quite content to have their vicarious, their own ... inadequacies of their own personal athletic performances fulfilled through the lives of students on a Friday night in a gymnasium full of 300 people."

While it really doesn't matter what side of the "Education Reform" fence I sit on, I do take issue with the Gov.'s characterization of high school sports fans and their "inadequacies."

We do live in a culture that puts an enormous amount of emphasis on sports, not just high school, but at all levels of competition.

Do we put too much emphasis on this world of sports? Maybe. But sports do play an important role in giving us, as fans, something to look forward to after a tedious day at work, whether we get together for a game of backyard hoops, or go to watch our local high school players. Sports can offer good therapy.

Under the right guidance, academics can be, and in most cases are, balanced with sports on the high school level to create true student-athletes.

As we've seen in the recent past, the "dumb jock" stereotype appears to have taken at least a few positive steps toward extinction.

Much of this balancing responsibility lies not only with the school district involved, but more importantly with the daily emphasis placed on academics at home.

I do agree with the Gov. that some people are more interested in sports than the long-term success of the student.

But guess what? That's always been the case in some insistences, and is not likely to be changed by consolidating schools or anything else. Like I said, a good chunk of the education process begins at home.

As far as the "inadequacies of their own personal athletic performances," I had many in my organized-sports playing days.

So many inadequacies in fact, that I could probably write a book.

However, I think I am the person I am today because of days such as those.

Despite my athletic limitations, I thoroughly loved playing sports, from the practices straight through to the games themselves. And thanks to some great coaches along the way, I learned invaluable lessons like how to function as a member of a team and the importance of fair play, all lessons still relevant today.

And so you can bet I plan on fulfilling said inadequacies by living vicariously through today's students.

As a matter of fact, when my son attains the age necessary for playing organized sports, you can count me among the 300 people crowded into a gymnasium on a Friday night.

Along with his letter jacket, I hope my son will also receive the knowledge and life skills necessary for a successful journey through post-high school life, and I feel confident that sports will be an important part of that process.

So whether Gov. Huckabee's plans ultimately fail or succeed, I hope he realizes what an important part sports, and sports fans, are to the whole education cycle, and they should not be cited as the deciding factor in the number of school districts operating in the state.

And he should also take into advisement the fact that a little vicarious living through or sports heroes never hurt anyone.



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