October 8, 1997
Given enough time and resources, virtually all students can learn.
At a time when we are concerned about increasing academic performance, a little understood phenomenon is taking place, but the question is simple: Should students be participating in interscholastic contests on school nights?
The practice of scheduling extensive student activities on school nights seems to have evolved shortly after passage of Title IX of the Education Amendment Acts of 1972. That federal law assisted in equalizing opportunities for boys and girls to participate in extracurricular and co-curricular activities. This sorely needed increase in opportunities for girls created a strain upon facilities such as game fields, gymnasiums, auditoriums, locker rooms, and natatoriums. Title IX and some overexuberant parents and coaches created a facilities problem that was a nightmare for athletic directors, activity coordinators, and principals. Simply put, more teams meant the need for more practice, playing time, and spaceóbut unfortunately, there wasnít enough of either available to schedule games and contests only on weekends.
Research and observations lead to the conclusion that athletics and extracurricular activities are extremely important to school climate and even student academic achievement. On the other hand, contests and performances that deprive students of study time need to be curtailed. Many parents, when travelling to other parts of the world, are surprised to learn such activities are not part of school programs abroad but are generally managed as independent athletic clubs or performing companies.
The situation in this nation cannot be easily corrected by principals, superintendents or boards of education. Because of the nature of interscholastic activities, governance needs to take place at the league, state athletic association, state music association, accrediting agency, state board of education or legislative levels.
The solution seems relatively simple. There should be a ban on any school-night activity that conflicts with students being at home by 7:30. Furthermore, there should be a prohibition of travel for interscholastic competitions on school nights of more than 50 miles, even if they conclude prior to 7:30. This would allow students a reasonable time for a balanced meal, concentrated study and relaxation before bedtime.
One obstacle to this solution is the paucity of facilities at many schools. Two approaches seem plausible. One was highlighted in a Dispatch editorial on November, 17, 1986. The editorial commended the South-Western City School District, under the leadership of Martin Stahl, then the superintendent, for the opening of three community centers designed to serve athletic needs and provide low-cost recreational opportunities for all residents. Columnist Andy Rooney in a "Why-doesnít-anybody-ever" column carried in The Dispatch observed that there is "no reason for gymnasiums to be limited to the use of school kids. I donít know many adults who wouldnít get a lot more exercise and enjoy themselves playing games that demanded some physical exertion if there were facilities for it in there communities."
The Dispatch editorial observed: "South-Western City Schools and its district residents couldnít agree more and put their money where the need was. The community recreation centers each offer a one-tenth mile indoor track, three full-size basketball courts that can be converted for tennis, volleyball, or badminton as well as a weight room, a sauna, lockers and a community room with an adjacent kitchen area. Residents can use the facilities most anytime, except during the hours of 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays."
Another alternative was initiated in the 1990s in Ankeny, Iowa. There, more elaborate facilities, such as the ones recently completed in Dublin and under way in Hilliard, became joint school-community projects. The 40,000 square foot Ankeny operation includes an eight lane indoor swimming pool, multipurpose gyms, handball-racketball courts, weight rooms, locker rooms, and even baby-sitting facilities.
Under these plans, the facilities are or will be available to students before and after school, and to non-students when school is in session. Itís a great way to provide sorely needed school and community facilities with one price tag for taxpayers. When one looks at the total school budget, the cost of such facilities is very small and the reward could be outstanding. Schools could allow students more weeknight time at home, and everyone in the community could benefit when they vote yes on a school-finance issue.
is Distinguished Research Professor at the
University of Dayton and is President & Chief Executive Officer
of SchoolMatch®, a Columbus based educational auditing, research, data