Students in sports can thrive


U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently announced a decision that requires schools to allow students with disabilities to participate in interscholastic athletics. Specifically, the decision noted, “Disabled students who want to play for their school could join traditional teams if officials can make ‘reasonable modifications’ to accommodate them.” If those adjustments would fundamentally alter a sport or give the student an advantage, the department is directing the school to create parallel athletic programs that have comparable standing to traditional programs. The truth is that the inclusion of disabled students in athletics and other activities has long been normal in American schools with many high school athletes moving on to success at the highest levels, including: Bruce Jenner – dyslexia – Olympic decathlon, Jim Abbot – born with one arm – Olympic gold medalist and owner of a no-hitter for the New York Yankees, and Gail Devers -Graves’ Disease – Olympic sprint and hurdle star.

The secretary further explained that “Sports can provide invaluable lessons in discipline, selflessness, passion and courage, and this guidance will help schools ensure that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity to benefit from the life lessons they can learn on the playing field or on the court.” Any educator would echo those words. Teachers, coaches, extracurricular activities advisers and principals have long touted the positive effect that sports and other activities have on academic achievement in the classroom. Most call it a “no brainer.” As a matter of fact, most high school athletic teams, clubs and extracurricular groups place a much higher percentage of their members on honor rolls than the student body at large.

Finally, we are seeing some guidance from Washington that will truly help the students in our public schools. As a veteran of more than 40 years as a teacher, coach (football, basketball, track, cross country), athletic director, high school principal and superintendent of schools, my philosophy has always been that a school cannot be totally successful unless it provides opportunities for all students in the Four A’s (Academics, Athletics, Arts, Activities). For the first time ever, the three A’s that go beyond the classroom are being championed by our leaders in Washington.

While this landmark decision provides hope for more participation in athletics and activities by school students, there is still a need for concern about the funding to truly make the initiative a success. On the one hand, Washington is calling for an increase in the number of students who participate in extracurriculars at the same exact time that school districts across the nation are being forced to drop sports and related activities due to a lack of funding for such programs.

This is the quandary in which education officials will now find themselves. Given the lack of funding schools are experiencing, school boards are often dropping or drastically cutting back extracurricular programs in order to save academic programs. If this trend continues, the good news we just heard from Washington about including more students in sports and related programs will fall on deaf ears as schools continue to cut the very programs that would provide students the opportunity for success not only in school, but in life beyond school. I guess it comes down to cost versus value. To those of us who have seen the positive effect these programs have on students, the value is there regardless of the cost. To others, these programs are seen as frills. Which voice will be loudest? I hope the former, for the sake of the students.

John Metallo, a retired teacher and administrator, resides in?Slingerlands.

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