Wednesday, April 17, 2013

School vs. Club: Where Do Sports Belong?

The game is over coached, and under taught.  That was the message from Coni Yori, the head women’s basketball coach at the University of Nebraska in an article I read about the current state of young basketball players.  It accompanied an interview her colleague on the men’s side at the university, Tim Miles, who bemoans the fact that so much time is spent playing games in the summer on AAU teams with little if any attention paid to the developing the fundamental skills of the game.  Along with Rick Pitino, coach of this year’s NCAA champion Louisville Cardinals, who says the game suffers because of the lack of fundamentals, Miles also points to a decrease in scoring in the college game because players simply don’t have the skills to score.
Coach Yori, who may be familiar with some of you “hard core” Iowa girl’s basketball fans because of her amazing career as a player at Ankeny High School a number of years ago, comments about a conversation she had with a young camper who shared that she had played 100 basketball games that summer and according to Yori, didn’t think she really needed to work on her individual skills.  She described her as “a kid playing all of these games and basically thinking she has it all figured out.”  Yori scored 3,068 points in her star-studded career in high school, and only played 25 games in a calendar year, all of them with her high school team because there were no club or travel teams.
We live in a sports obsessed society right now, and it only seems to becoming more so when one hears about the billions of dollars that are being poured into various events.  At one point I thought that perhaps it would come around and common sense would come into play, particularly in college athletics, but that does not seem to be the case.  There is simply too much money.  There are a number of things I do not like about high school athletics, but overall, I still believe that it is the best place for young people to get the experience of playing these games.  Even though there have been changes over the years, there are still strong structures in place and high standards in regard to coaching qualifications and expectations.
As a family we have also been involved in the club, travel, or select world of sports.  I do see a lot of positives out there for this kind of experience.  In fact, I believe that there are some aspects that far exceed scholastic sports.  However, I also see first-hand what Miles and Yori are saying.  Now I will say that there are some fundamental differences between the sports, as the two that my kids have played – softball and soccer – tend to be those “suburban” sports where private instruction accompanies membership on a team.  That is different from a lot of the AAU and club basketball programs out there that exploit poor kids from inner cities, usually for the personal gain of the coaches.   However, there is a common theme with these programs and that is the fact that nearly all of the players are playing for themselves, not team, or like scholastic sports, the school.  Their motivations are different.  They want the scholarship and to do that, they have to stand out as an individual.  And to do that, they often ignore some of the fundamentals of the game.
What we have today is a choice.  With the exception of football, a club alternative exists for every sport we offer in high school.  There are already kids in Iowa that choose to play club for a number of reasons, and opt to not play for their high school team.  We see it in soccer and softball right now.  But I think there is something to read between the lines with both Coach Yori and Coach Miles, and that is the fact that they would rather work with the high school coaches and believe that at that level, education does take place.  Not only teaching on the basketball court, but also in the classroom.  Sports in our schools are an extension of the classroom, and it is for that reason that we really need to keep them in proper perspective.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Small Town Success Story

A while back I had a conversation with Coach Guyer, who stopped in to let me know that North Fayette alum and Warburg All-American, John Helgerson had qualified to participate in the Olympic wresting trials in Iowa City.  I have only been introduced to Helgerson and shook his hand, but I have heard a number of people talk very highly of him since I arrived nearly four years ago.  Without knowing a lot about the history of our area, I wonder how many people from our community have had opportunity to reach the pinnacle of their chosen field?  Helgerson did not make the Olympic team, but he was in that final one or two percent that had a chance.  If you ask me, that is a pretty exclusive club and when you think about it, according to the last census, there are 313,914,040 people in the United States, so the fact that he was one of eight that even had a chance to make the team, that certainly puts him at the very top of peak!
I mention this because there seems to be an inferiority complex among many folks who grow up in a small town.  You often hear someone in less than a proud manner say in a conversation, “I grew up in a small town.”  One doesn’t need to have an advanced degree in mathematics to figure out that where there are larger concentrations of people, there is a greater likelihood that more people will excel.  It’s in the numbers.  I read a story recently about the number of outstanding professional basketball players who grew up in Brooklyn, New York.   Brooklyn is one of the boroughs of New York City and holds a little over 30% of the cities population.  In the 2010 census there were just fewer than 2.6 million Brooklynites.  Iowa has a population of a bit over 3 million.  Now I am not as much of an aficionado of basketball as I am other sports, but I wonder over time how our state compares to Brooklyn in terms of players who have done well in the NBA.  Fred Hoiberg, Raef Lafrentz, Kirk Heinrich, Nick Collison are four names that come to mind and it appears as if Harrison Barnes and Doug McDermott have careers at that level in front of them.  So maybe being from a small town doesn’t make it a long shot.
To go further with this, many of us are aware of the fact that at one time in the past ten years or so, four men who graduated from Aplington-Parkersburg were playing at the same time in the NFL.  In fact, per capita, A-P was producing more professional football players than any other high school in the country.  Take that Texas high school football!  That goes to show that the small town kid can make it to the top level of a given field!
So why do I bring this up?  One of the things that I have stated a time or two in the past year as we have moved forward into the whole grade sharing agreement is that where a person lives should not impact the opportunities they have in life.  In some respects being in the right place at the right time is a definite advantage.  Not too many Iowans are going to become professional surfers.  But, over the long haul, growing up in a small town should not impede goals and aspirations.  The key in the education area is that you have to have resources and opportunity, and that is why I was 100% on board with sharing from the first day it was mentioned.  An example that I shared with some folks is with a question: why should students at West Des Moines Valley have a choice of English classes when they are juniors and seniors and our students don’t?  There is a critical mass that provides opportunity, and with what we are planning to have in place next year, we are taking advantage of that.  I want to make sure that our students have what they need to move toward that dream or goal.
John Helgerson didn’t attend a big school.  He graduated from North Fayette with a class just a little bigger than the ones that are going through our high school right now.  He had the opportunity to wrestle in high school and he parlayed that into a chance to wrestle in college.  Through hard work and perseverance, he qualified for the Olympic Trials.  If anyone ever told him that he couldn’t get there because he was from a small town, he ignored them.  I would like to think that we have students in our school now that have aspirations and dreams, and with John Helgerson as an example, hopefully it doesn’t matter that they are from a small town.