Is anything good happening in high school sports?

As an athletic director, this is a question for which I try to have a good answer. Frequently, the reported news is not helpful.

I am an advocate for education-based athletics. The court, field, ice rink or track is an extension of the classroom. This is the test track to see whether what we teach within our school walls has an impact in the reality of the world outside.

It takes little observation to acknowledge that our culture is struggling with divisiveness, anger and tension. In our schools we make a great effort to teach our students that these negatives need not be part of their lives. Frequently, the student does not have the opportunity to experience or practice something positive when he or she leaves the school grounds. As educators, it is necessary for us to create those opportunities in which students can practice the language and teaching of the classroom.

Sept. 16, 2016 was such a night for two schools.

Filling out a football schedule for a medium-size, rural northern Wisconsin school on the shores of Lake Superior is a difficult task. As I searched for an opponent for our open week, the only prospect I could find was Minneapolis North Community High School. I contacted North’s athletic director, Leo Lewis, and proposed a game with the Oredockers from Ashland. After discussions with the coaches, we agreed to play.

But where? The Polars needed a home game and so did the Oredockers. So we agreed to meet halfway: Cameron, a small northwest Wisconsin town with a new football stadium, 100 miles from each school, hosted the game.

I had no previous connection with Lewis nor with Minneapolis Public Schools’ director of athletics Trent Tucker. But I quickly came to admire their preparation skills and obvious care for their student athletes. The pregame and game planning was in place, and we agreed to a meal together following the game.

Well, the game arrived, fan buses from both schools converged on Cameron, and to the delight of the Polar faithful, North won the game. What followed had a profound effect on many young athletes.

The players came together in a lunchroom, devoured pizza, cookies and Gatorade, and showed one another that different kids from very different places really are not that different. While the coaches visited, the players started an arm-wrestling tournament that inspired cheers and whoops of delight for more than an hour. Video and photos were shared on social media, as the kids enjoyed getting to know one another.

Education-based athletics, high school sports are an extension of the classroom. Classroom discussion and theory were fleshed out in a small lunchroom in a little northern Wisconsin town. Kids from very different backgrounds shared what they do have in common: the desire to compete, the desire to get along and the desire for a good slice of pizza.

Is anything good happening in high school sports? You bet there is.

 

Brian M. Miller is athletic director at Ashland High School in Ashland, Wis.