GRAY — Let me begin by saying this: I firmly believe that sports and extracurricular activities have a solid purpose in making our children better people. I love sports, and both of my children play sports, as did I. I believe that they are better children because of it and that organized sports (and unorganized sports – remember those?) play a significant role in learning.

That being said, and acknowledged by the reader, I have a question that will eventually lead to a sure-to-be unpopular suggestion. The question is: When did organized sports become part of our formal educational process?

What I know about the history of the subject suggests that early American private colleges followed the blueprint of our English homeland and had “sporting clubs” within their schools. Think Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc. This eventually was copied by the small academies that sprung up and then on to our public institutions.

How did we go from that to our school systems, from kindergarten up through our colleges and universities, having organized sports? When did the need for the youth of our country to receive an education become married to the need for our learning institutions to have organized athletic teams?

Let me stop right here and say this – please refer to my opening statement. Now I ask (and this time I will add a twist to my argument): When did sports become part of our education system and a significant part of the budget for said education? What purpose do sports in our schools serve?

Before you answer that question, think about it. Remember, I am all for sports. But why are they in our schools, and why do the taxpayers pay for them?

Our children can play sports year-round. Any sport. And not all of their playing time involves the school system. For instance, one can play soccer for the local soccer club (just like the old days). It has nothing to do with the school system, except that the club uses school fields because they are the only fields available (thank you, taxpayers).

Again: Why are we paying for sports in our schools? What if you don’t have kids, or your kids don’t play sports? Do your taxes go down? All citizens pay taxes toward the local schools because it is understood that educating our youth makes the community better and stronger. I agree. But how much of that tax money – state, local and federal – is going to our schools for sports?

Again, why is there a forced marriage between sports and the schools? If there were no sports associated with our education system, would we suddenly be a state of flunkies? Or would we actually be better off because we would be paying less taxes – or, better yet, because the schools could put that tax money actually toward the education of our children? More teachers, maybe? Better training?

It is too late to change the entrenchment of sports in education at the college level, I am afraid. It is all about money.

Ohio State University’s science division was not allowed to attend out-of-state conferences, but their football coach gets more than $4 million a year and the use of a private jet. If it were about educating our people to make America into a better community, then this would be reversed, but we all know it is about profit. Education at the college level is a business, not a social benefit for our citizens.

How about here in the state of Maine? How much of our tax money is going to our universities, and how much of that is spent on athletics? Why? To what end? For what purpose? For our entertainment? Just to bring in alumni money?

Again, keep the sports! But break up the forced marriage. Sports can be controlled by local clubs where the townspeople can decide on their own whether they want to pay for them or not. If your child plays, you pay. And if you cannot pay, there are scholarships paid for by fundraising. Ask Little League Baseball and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts what they do if a family just cannot pay.

Also, take the existing school athletic fields and courts and sell or rent them to the sporting clubs and let the clubs maintain them.

Dare to think differently and ask “Why?” This prevents us from continuing to do things that are wrong just because we have always done it a certain way. Think about it.

— Special to the Press Herald

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