Tonawanda News

October 16, 2012

CONFER: Cut school sports — for philosophical reasons

By Bob Confer
The Tonawanda News

— Last week’s column discussed the dire straits faced by school districts and how it makes good fiscal sense to cut sports. It’s also good practice from a philosophical standpoint.

Very few people would argue against society having a responsibility, within reason, for the education of our youth. It’s only fair: it was done for us and we should do it for them. It’s also a good investment: The introduction of knowledge to and the fostering of critical thinking skills within our children will always pay huge dividends when they became capable, working adults who will contribute to the greatness oftheir generation and those that follow.

But, a line needs to be drawn.

We should fund science, math and the humanities. They contribute to the basic premise of public education. The burden that taxpayers shouldn’t shoulder, though, are the extra-circular activities. Not only do athletics have the potential to adversely affect the budgeting of the intellectual pursuits and/or create undue financial burden on local, state, and federal taxpayers, but we’ve been saddled for too long by a sort of misguided belief whereby society thinks that entertainment and leisure deserve the same investment of energy and public funds as the things that really count in life.

It should be noted that by strengthening the important aspects and outcomes of education (know-how, creativity and productivity) in the home, in our community and in our nation, leisure will follow as an improved people (singularly and collectively) have the time and money to invest in it. We’re not even close in that regard — not only are our students getting trounced when compared against the rest of the world’s children, but our society is in an escalated state of decline (see our struggling economy, for starters). It’s the overemphasis on leisure that contributed to the Roman Empire’s complacency and resulting death, and it’s doing the same to us. To some, that may seem like over-reaching hysteria, but take a look around you: Think of how many youths (and their parents) focus more on sports than on their studies…they’d rather excel on the field than in the classroom.

What makes this especially confounding is the fact that parents with school-aged kids (the most powerful voting bloc in school board elections and budget votes) think it’s the obligation of the masses to pay for their children’s hobbies. A boy’s interest in football and a girl’s love for field hockey are no different than others’ appreciation for, say, Scouting and horses. Why should taxpayers be forced to pay for sports – enjoyed by a very small minority of the student body – when they aren’t forced to pay for a Boy Scout’s trip to the Jamboree or a young lady’s participation in equestrian competition? You see, it’s ridiculous to even ponder publically-funding the latter set of circumstances, so why should it not be the same for the former? Consider that a money-poor taxpayer could lose his home for not paying for some boy’s baseball uniform or a girl’s basketball. How is that even remotely right?

Sports should be full-funded by the participants. It should be the obligation of the children and/or their parents to pay for all costs associated with their hobbies. You would expect the same if a kid is in scouts or little league baseball, plays video games, or hunts and fishes. Those families and, where applicable, their respective organizations make it happen. The parents might have to give up on a little bit of their interests to fund that of their kids, or the children may have to go out and mow some lawns or get a job.

They might all have to get together and creatively put together some fundraising endeavors and events.

My default example for this is always the Royalton-Hartland Sports Boosters Club. Faced with the total elimination of football a few years back, those great souls brought it back, fully-funded by their efforts.

They found that those who can’t give couldn’t, but those who could, would give in spades. They made it work in a small community with a very limited business base. With equal efforts in similar and larger districts, other schools could easily fund their sports by benevolence and not by force.

So, while impending cuts – which have been a long time coming - may seem depressing and daunting to young athletes and their parents, other families suffer the same financing issues with their interests and they seem to adjust accordingly and admirably…and it’s likely they savor their hobbies more for the investments they make in them. That’s the premise that America was founded on – happiness was meant to be pursued, not given to us, and we (both young and old) are better off for that pursuit.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. Email him at bobconfer@juno.com.