I was parked in front of the middle school waiting to pick up Will after soccer practice when I saw a girl walk out of the building, wiping tears from her eyes with her sweatshirt. An older boy, presumably her brother, got out of the car driven by their mother and tried to comfort her, but she pulled away. She got into the car, and through the open windows, I saw her fling herself onto the back seat and I heard her break down into heartrending sobs.
Will emerged and told me that the girls’ soccer coach was telling them that day whether they had made the team or not. I put two and two together. This young girl had obviously just been told, “Thank you for trying out, but I’m sorry, we don’t have a place for you on the team.”
I felt sad for her, but more than that, I felt angry. How awful to be told at the tender age of 12 or 13 that there’s no room for you to join.
In previous years, there were both seventh and eighth grade teams, but now, there is only a combined seventh and eighth grade team, one for girls, and the other for boys. That means that this year, at least for the boys, more than 60 kids came out to try out for only 18 spots. There’s something terribly wrong with those numbers, especially when you consider that my property taxes have nearly doubled over Will’s lifetime, but the number of school programs available for the kids has gone down.
Kids develop at different rates, and there are many late bloomers who don’t hit their athletic stride until later in life. Bob Bigelow, one of the country’s foremost speakers on youth sports, told me that he was one of those late bloomers, a kid who had not really picked up a basketball until he was 14 years old, when he had an incredible growth spurt. He ended up being an NBA first round draft choice and after a storied high school and college career, played for the Boston Celtics and the Kansas City Kings.
How many kids are cut from youth sports in middle school and end up so discouraged that they give up on something that might open doors for them in the future, not to mention something they love and might pursue for a lifetime?
I also find it ironic that this country has a highly publicized obesity problem across all ages, and while much time and energy is spent on legislating the sale of super-sized soft drinks, not nearly as much of either has been devoted to fighting for the restoration of sports programs that would encourage kids to get up from the couch, tune in to fun and health, and turn off the electronics.
There also has been much made of the growing problem of unsupervised teens getting into trouble after school. Latchkey kids become latchkey teens who don’t want a babysitter looking over their shoulders, so many end up with at least a couple of hours of alone time before mom or dad come home from work. These are the hours where they can get into so many worlds of trouble via the Internet or be drawn into temptations like substance abuse.
It’s not just cuts in sports budgets, but cuts in clubs and other after school activities that are troubling. Last year Will didn’t get a part in the school play when he auditioned in the fall, so his drama teacher told him to come out for stage crew in the spring. He paid close attention to announcements, and showed up with enthusiasm for the information meeting. He came home disgruntled and discouraged. “Mom, I don’t know if I’m going to make stage crew,” he told me. What? I thought stage crew was a volunteer position. At least in my day it was. It involved constructing and painting sets and moving furniture around, and they always needed extra hands around the stage.
“More than 50 kids came to try out for stage crew, mom,” he said. “And she told us that she’s only taking 14 kids.” Long story short: Will did not “make” stage crew last year.
The explanation from the drama teacher: “Over 50 students attended the stage crew informational meeting. Each student filled out an index card and answered specific questions. I read over all cards and weighed out the needs of the show. I filled the spots up with art students and girls who could do makeup.”
Sympathy and further elaboration from another teacher: “What you described is what has happened to this place since the budget cuts. There is less for the kids to get involved in and it is much more competitive because so much has been eliminated. There used to be two sports teams, now it is just one. WW-P took it on the chin with the budget cuts a few years ago from the state.”
Will was fine. He made the lacrosse team and had a great season. But what about the other kids who did not get a position on stage crew –– or any other club or team?
In a high-achieving school district where we pay a lot of money to live and have the desire to support programs to help our children achieve their best potential, it is a crying shame –– quite literally ––when they are told they are not good enough to be part of the team, or that there is no room for them to sit at the table –– or even help move one around.