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The Sports Difference


A recent article in The Atlantic Monthly asks how sports took over childhood.

It was investigative.

A recent book with a plug on PBS compares the money spent per American student and other nations, with a snide dig at our side with “four hours of football practice a day.”

Both miss their mark. Here’s hoping fewer miss their miss.

Hilary Levey Friedman writes in the Atlantic:

In some parts of the country some parents with higher class standing start grooming their children for competitive preschool admissions, setting their children on an Ivy League track from early on.

“Competitive children’s activities have certainly evolved since they began in late 19th-century America. Now there are more activities, a greater number of competitions, and a change in the class backgrounds of competitors. It’s thanks to changes in the 20th-century educational system—like compulsory schooling, the self-esteem movement, and higher-stakes college admissions—that this is how American families are spending leisure time today.”

When self-styled intellectuals aim their Harvard research at fields of endeavor that failed them, or where they failed, no one wins.

Americans in general, and Oregonians in particular, flock to sporting events. Why? Because they allow fans to express feelings and emotions outside the norms of modern society. It’s not a tea party.

The University of Oregon is a prime example. They used to be a tea towel. And now?

Behold the rise of a national power in the Beaver State where Ducks rule the college football roost. Their sports facilities expand, professors complain, and students sign up for classes in greater numbers than ever.

Why? Because sports are synonymous with ENTHUSIASM. And the winning bug bit.

A woman I know said she graduated from Texas A&M. I asked how she chose that school. Family tradition?

She said, “I went to one game there in high school, saw the bonfire, and that was it. I found my school.”

Sort of scary? Not when it comes from a PA out of Pacific University.

Students don’t go to Oregon for a bonfire, but the excitement of Eugene Game Day burns in the air. It’s the winning. Winning is contagious. There’s no cure for it. And they just got inoculated.

After a thorough exam by NCAA doctors, Duck fans can rest assured their school won’t erupt in a Sports Illustrated expose like the Oklahoma State Cowboys infection. It’s safe to cheer. You don’t need to glove and gown up.

A notch down, North Bend High School shows the validity of sports in a small community. With funding provided by long term vision and anonymous donors, Vic Adams Field and Howard Johnson Stadium does more than pull a big crowd. It builds community.

The combination of athletics and activities in the anchor city of Oregon’s southwest coast gives every Bulldog a chance to shine. Banners for last year’s forensics state championship and a wrestling state championship hang in the same gym.

Can you say win, win? Then there’s the other side.

Baby boomers recall the rumors that East Germany tested kids for their sports aptitude, then informed parents their child will spend the next ten years in training school, home on birthdays and Christmas for a few hours.

It only sounds like kidnapping.

Everyone heard the suspicions about Chinese parents getting better apartments if their baby does well in the Olympics.

Remember anecdotal evidence that Soviet Union lady throwers wore jocks. That’s not an accident.

Concern for student success is important, but comparing the U.S. to nations like Finland and South Korea in terms of money spent leaves a huge gap.  At home, South Koreans eat, sleep, and study? Okay. They do the same at school?

What is their national sport?

What do they do in Finland? It’s not four hours of football practice. It’s not here either, but who’s keeping snide score.

What is Finland’s national sport?

In spite of all the classic leagues and all-star travel teams, you can’t ignore the benefits of sports on young people. They learn to tell time and show up. How to prepare so they show up with a chance to compete. They learn directions.

At the least, they learn how to win and lose with dignity.

These aren’t just the benefits for elite athletes. The rules and lessons apply to everyone on every team from the water boy up.

(#1 success secret for top returns on your youth sports investment: encourage your kid to work hard and get better, or start coaching.)

The effort put into athletics is a reward that lasts a lifetime for everybody. Sure, little effort isn’t the end of the world.

It’ll just feel that way.

Does Oregon, and America at large, spend too much on sports? Not when you consider the epidemic of childhood obesity and diabetes. That’s a road no one wants to travel.

Sure, little effort isn’t the end of the world.

It’ll just feel that way.

Why not try a sport that is all effort?

(also posted on


About David Gillaspie


  1. Good stuff – brings back great memories.

    • David Gillaspie says:

      That’s the key to life, don’t you think? Keeping old memories and building new ones and maintaining enough balance so one doesn’t over ride the other.

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