Sports done right

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(HOST) As the school year winds down, commentator Brian Porto reflects on achievement and recognition in school sports.

(PORTO) Last summer, while vacationing in Maine, I read a newspaper article featuring the high school athletes who were selected to Maine’s “all-state” teams in spring sports. One such athlete was a pitcher whose 96 mph fastball and sharply breaking curveball had won him a two million dollar professional baseball contract. I remember thinking that this young man must be a rare gem, but I did not know how rare until recently, when I learned that only one half of one percent of high school baseball players make the huge jump directly to the professional ranks.

I read that statistic in a report, titled “Sports Done Right”, which was produced in the talented pitcher’s home state by the Maine Center for Sports and Coaching, located in the College of Edu- cation and Human Development at the University of Maine at Orono. The report espouses a wonderful philosophy that ties sports inextricably to education and makes long-term human development the goal of both sports and education. Its authors understand that the young man with the 96 mph fastball is rare and, therefore, that youth sports programs should be designed, not for him, but instead for the vast majority of youngsters, who will not earn a living from sports, but who can benefit immensely from participating in sports.

The guiding principles of “Sports Done Right” are that “athletics are co-curricular activities and integral to the total education pro- gram” and that “coaches are educators, first and foremost.” To reinforce the link between sports and education, the report show- cases a high school that held a single end-of-season banquet for all its teams, parents and fans, where school authorities gave awards, not to the most valuable players on field and court, but instead to the athletes who had the highest academic achieve- ments and the teams that had done the most community service. To reinforce the link between coaches and education, it urges coaches and parents to meet at the start of the school year to discuss the expectations that coaches and school administrators have of students who play sports.

Most importantly, though, to reinforce the link between sports and long-term human development, “Sports Done Right” encourages schools and communities to “support alternative programs for students who are cut from or do not choose to try out for inter- scholastic teams.” These programs might include traditional sports, but also alternatives, such as outdoor education, martial arts, skateboarding and cycling, which may well be part of the solution to childhood obesity and to low self-esteem, drug use and suicide among teenagers.

“Sports Done Right” should be required reading for anyone interested in the future of youth sports in this country.

This is Brian Porto of Windsor.

Brian Porto is an attorney and a freelance writer. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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