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Right On the Money

By Dan Bauer, 09/20/11, 7:45AM CDT


You can’t put a price on Friday night football

In a time of school budget reductions and hysterical forecasts the relative worth of everything is now under the microscope.  That includes high school athletics.  As school districts scramble to find ways to balance their bottom line, athletics are being subject to the same scrutiny and sharp knife as any other program.   

Like an IRS audit many programs are uneasy with the fine tooth comb treatment that may expose wasteful or frivolous spending.  With Horatio Caine knocking at the door of every athletic director in the state, I encourage them to invite him in.  Never has there been an open and shut case quite like the argument for high school athletics.

Upon examination we find that athletics represents about 1% of most school budgets.  Here in Wausau that finances 24 sports and serves about fifty percent of the school population.  I challenge you to find another program that provides a better learning experience for the rock-bottom price of about $115 per athlete.   

You can’t put a price on Friday night football and basketball games and all the community pride and enthusiasm that is generated.  Every sport has its loyal following and its own niche in their big city or small town.  For many it would be hard to imagine what they might do on a crisp October Friday night if there were no high school football games.  From Texas to the Frozen Tundra in Green Bay it is both a national pastime and treasure. 

I won’t interject the “sports build character” cliché right here, because I don’t subscribe to it.  What I do believe is—that coaches build character.  Like every other walk of life success is determined by the core values that are upheld and the quality of people involved.  Good coaches build character, teach life lessons, model the values they expect from their athletes and if they get a group of talented players to buy into their vision—win some games.

Coaches may be the best bargain in the world of employment.  Hard to ignore the fact that this is actually their second job, on top of the one that pays the bills, and that they will work for peanuts. These are people who truly love their sport and their athletes.

The journey provided by the athletic experience is a microcosm of life complete with the rollercoaster ride of highs and lows that we all deal with every day.  It is an unwritten story and we get to be the authors, actors and the audience.   

It is an experience with unique value in a society that has mistakenly drifted toward rewarding mediocrity and discouraging competition.  Different from its minor league affiliate, youth sports, high school will demand commitment, inspire competition and reward excellence.  Like real life there are no guarantees of equal rewards in athletics, just equal opportunity.

The value of athletics is limitless.

Public education is in a state of flux as they contemplate how to best move forward in preparing students for the new world of high-tech opportunities.  While change is imminent, there remains a duffle bag of job skills that haven’t and never will change.  Qualities that are readily taught through athletics like the ability to work with others toward a common goal, personal responsibility, leadership, passion for your work, going the extra mile and the discipline of attention to detail. 

What you know is important, but the attitude and the intangibles you bring is what separates you from the rest.  Athletes welcome challenge and know that if you get knocked down you get back up and try again.  They know that failure is temporary, success is a journey, not a destination and that life is a competition.

So when it comes to budget cuts, look somewhere else, because the cost effectiveness of high school athletics is right on the money.