Saturday, January 16, 2010

NU's Center for Sport in Society on Importance of K-12 Sports Programs

By Michael Hill

There is little doubt that sports play a pivotal role in the lives of America’s youth. In building social skills, maintaining physical health, and providing young people with a passion they can pursue, the importance of school sports is hard to deny.

So what happens when the opportunity for youths to participate in sports is jeopardized?

In recent months, Boston public schools have had to make difficult choices in their spending to protect their sports programs. Although Boston has found a potential solution to protect sports programs, other cities have been less fortunate.

Taryn Provencher is project coordinator for Urban Youth Sports for Northeastern University’s Center for Sport in Society. With years of experience in youth sports, she says of the importance of sports in youth’s lives: “Getting involved has always been a respected activity in our nation, but it starts out as a great opportunity to get physically active and interact in a safe social scene. The interaction in this scene argues to keep youths out of trouble and involved in healthy programming.”

In June, the Boston Globe published a seven- part series about the severity of Boston public schools’ financial standing for school sports. In the final part of the series, the Globe reported that Mayor Thomas M. Menino would introduce a new multimillion-dollar charitable foundation to work to protect sports programs for Boston’s student athletes.

The program, introduced in August, is expected to hire staff, recruit board members, and begin to improve the public school system one sport at a time. The program plans to host charitable events, such as school fairs, and is projected to increase the Boston public schools’ annual sports budget to $6.5 million from $4 million in the next three calendar years. That’s a more than 60 percent increase from the city’s current public school sports budget, the Globe reported.

“It’s a new renaissance for the athletic and academic programs in the Boston public schools,’’ Menino told the Globe. “These kids need help, and we’re going to give them that little extra to make sure they’re successful.”

Provencher said she is worried about other cities that are not taking immediate action to protect their public school sports programs. She said obesity and losing the ability to understand the significance of setting goals and working as a team are potential consequences of schools cutting sports programs.

Provencher said there is a need for more part-time physical education teachers and after-school coaches, as a simple yet effective solution for creating ample opportunities for America’s youths to participate in sports.

“There are many people that would be willing to take advantage of the option to work part-time to run activities and sport for youth,” Provencher said. “Our volunteer base is a lot more active in present day as well, and utilizing volunteers, even if it were once a week, is better than nothing.”

At Northeastern University, student athletes get involved at least once a week to help Boston public school students, both physically and academically, through athletic activities and peer tutoring. Although it is a small effort in a big picture, the commitment from the student athletes not only helps youths gain an improved sense of self-esteem by learning and keeping physically fit, but the simple reassurance that somebody cares about them is enough to motivate youths to strive to work hard and think more highly about their own education, Provencher said.

According to its Web site, Northeastern’s Center for Sport in Society is considered the world’s largest social justice organization that uses sport to create social change. Since 1984, the nonprofit organization has promoted physical activity, health, violence prevention, and diversity among young people and professional athletes.

Michael Hill is an undergraduate student in the Northeastern University School of Journalism.

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