Highland Park saga part of a bigger issue in HS sports

It seems you can’t turn around right now without running smack dab into the controversy over a Chicago-area high school girls basketball team that was forced to cancel a trip to Arizona for what appeared to be political reasons.

It’s on TV, on the radio, in the newspapers, and all over the internet.

The girls at Highland Park High School had worked hard to earn enough money to make the trip to play in a tournament in Arizona.  When administrators canceled it, the story caught the heart strings of the public.

Whether the trip cancellation is actually due to “safety concerns”, as the school administration professes, or simply to make a political statement following the passage of our new immigration law, it sends the wrong message.

And Highland Park HS isn’t the only school around the country willing to take something away from its students to make a statement.  A little closer to home, North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake HS in southern California, is considering a similar course of action.  The AD there says he will discuss with school officials whether to boycott the state and keep their boys and girls basketball teams from attending Arizona tournaments.

While this all focuses on the immigration issue, it seems symptomatic of a bigger issue in high school sports these days.  And this state has many good examples of that problem.

The bigger picture is about whose interests should be considered first when it comes to decisions about high school athletes and the sports they play.

The athletes… or the adults who control the sports programs.

Just this past year, coaches at high schools throughout Arizona have been fired right and left.  Many of these are good coaches with outstanding performance records.  Their dismissals are, for the most part, fueled by the school’s desire to enhance its image with more wins, more titles, and more publicity.

Little consideration is given to the relationships the coaches have formed with their players and their families.  If given the choice, the athletes who actually play for the coaches would most likely opt to keep the coaches.  National studies show that kids at that age are more interested in having an enjoyable experience playing sports; winning, while important,  is secondary to that.

One Valley high school just hired a new football coach who has a well-documented history of being abusive to his players.  But he wins games.

This whole issue about doing what’s right for the players came up in another situation a week ago.  According to Craig Morgan, writing for MaxPreps, the Scottsdale Thunderbird Adventist Academy softball team wasn’t able to complete its state tournament game and had to forfeit.

Thunderbird is a Seventh-day Adventist school and does not participate in games from sunset on Fridays to sunset on Saturdays.  By the second inning of the game against Joseph City, which was on Friday, the sun had set.

It set on the team’s aspirations as well.

The school had tried to move the game up in the schedule, to be able to complete it before sundown, and had even found a couple of teams that would switch times.  But the Arizona Interscholastic Association, the high school governing body for sports,  turned down the athletic director’s request.

So, who was penalized for a flubbed call by the AIA?  Yep, the kids.

The Chicago Tribune made an important point in an article about the Highland Park fiasco:  We don’t support schools officials substituting their own judgment, especially without input from players, parents, or the district at large.  The administrators are making this statement (about Arizona’s immigration law), but the kids are making the sacrifice.  Let’s leave the kids out of it.

Advice well given.

And advice that should be taken by anyone who isn’t playing on a high school team.  Let’s think first about the kids who actually put the time and sacrifice into the sport.