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Tag: college sport

Talk-ED: On the ball, on the ball, on the ball!

Stuart Middleton
20 June 2011
I guess that anyone who has spent a little time as a teacher knows that the inability of students not to concentrate is a problem for them and for us. For some it seems typical and for others intermittent. Thankfully there are some students who seem simply to have a never-challenged capacity to concentrate. What a joy they are!

Just back from the US and I am wondering whether it is not only students that lose their concentration but entire education systems.

The USA has all the education issues of any English speaking country with many scaled up by quite a degree and with huge numbers of students dropping out and so on. What was the big issue facing the system last week? Well, it was whether or not the athletic programmes in colleges would go broke. The athletic programmes include college football (gridiron that is), basketball, baseball, soccer, and so on. Make no mistake about it, these programmes are huge business.

USA Today was able to collect information on 218 colleges and those tertiary institutions spent $US6.2 billion (let me repeat that – $6.2 billion) on their sports programme. And the shock of last week was that some of the budgets just weren’t going to be large enough. Sports budgets have been subsidised to quite an extent and these subsidies have increased by 20% since 2006. This at a time when state budgets are in extreme difficulty and expenditure on education is being cut generally and seriously.

It’s all a bit crazy – mind you this is happening in a sports system that can pay a college basketball coach over $3 million dollars a year and one college’s football team ran up over $13k in parking tickets that were paid for by the college.

The University of Oregon spend about $78 million on its sports. It is big business but what is more important, the business of sports or the business of education? What matters, getting the indicators heading north instead of south or the ball games? When there is great disparity between communities in terms of educational achievement, should college sport be allowed to capture the concerns of the community or is it acting to obscure real issues?

So I get home and discover that ball games are at the top of public discussion, not for the first time but certainly at a level of seriousness that seems to be escalating. Have we only the tragic consequences of excess among a few to concentrate on? When I hear that schools report with pride that at their school ball, sniffer dogs and breathalysers and security guards will all ensure that something can proceed safely – I know that we have taken our eyes off the ball that matters. A detox room at a school ball? Have we at last gone mad! We rail against the picture of schools in the US with security guards and detection devices at the school gate in order to make education safe while we surely are no better!

If this is what it takes, then let’s abandon the balls without hesitation. And if parents want to put on booze-driven events, let them. No-one is coming out of the current parlous state with either credit or peace of mind, what is meant to create pleasure seems simply to be creating pain.

There was a time when once the school ball had purpose. Dancing lessons would precede the event and young people would be treated to an event that was for most, well in advance of that which they could hope to enjoy in the ordinary course of their daily lives. That is no longer true. School balls as an event are now something of an anachronism – adults don’t even go to balls these days. Charity black tie dinners might be the closest thing and they bear only passing resemblance to a ball.

There are a lot of other things that the community should be invited to be worried about in education – it requires no catalogue from me for readers to know this. Instead by our own actions we invite the community at large to be distracted by these awful events.

On the one hand, we are asked to believe that there is tragic pressure on football and baseball in one system in which the disengagement of many and the failure or more should be the top priority. While in another system the tragic consequences of ghastly social behaviour obscures the fact that most students exhibit sound values and behaviour and perform as required to by their schools to such an extent that we can hold our heads high in international company.

In one system, state and federal governments struggle to direct the money to the things that matter in education. In another system, ours, we struggle to keep the focus of the community on things that matter.

In both instances, the ball season encourages us to inflict damage on ourselves.

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This sporting life

Stuart Middleton
New Zealand Education Review
Vol. 14 No.12, 3 April 2009, p.16
APN Educational Media (NZ) Ltd.

I love sport. I will watch it on the TV more than I should especially when the mighty Warriors are playing. How blessed we are to have so much sport on TV!

But it is a poor substitute of playing sport. Thank goodness our schools and educational institutions are still interested in sport.

Back at Frankton Primary School we would look forward each week to school sport. Off we would go to Boyes Park in Hamilton to do battle with Whitiora and Hamilton East. And as summer turned to winter we gave up cricket for rugby. The good thing was that we never had our unique skills coached out of us largely because we were never coached. Teams were assembled in those days rather than picked. Taking part was at least as important as playing well. Positions in teams were assigned and not a reflection of skill. I played lock in one of the Frankton Primary rugby teams if you can believe it!

I think the attraction of playing lock was that you got to wear the head gear –a smelly harness of leather and tatty cloth that must have been a sight to see but I tell you, just strapping it under your chin was empowering as they would say now.

In cricket I was even more hopeless except for one day when I perfected a single-finger-across-the-seam spin and got a couple of wickets. I went home to await my call-up to the New Zealand team which had just been bowled all out for 26 by England. The call never came and I went to school the next day.

I wished I hadn’t because half-way through the morning a teacher poked his face around the classroom door and said “I hear you have a pretty mean single finger spin, Middleton.” My face was redder than a Kookaburra.

At intermediate I was able to get into soccer at long last – my older brother had played for some time. I loved it and it was no surprise that when I went to high school that was my sport. Arthur Leong was the coach – he was selected for New Zealand and was an inspiration. He got us into club soccer – Hamilton Tech Old Boys – winner of the Chatham Cup in 1962 (the greatest day in New Zealand sport!!!). I was not in the team.

At secondary school I played tennis as well and I don’t think I was very good because the only thing I remember about it was walking across the Hamilton Railway Bridge on the way to Saturday morning tennis to meet a mate in the team to be told that John F. Kennedy jr. had been shot! I lost that day!

So on to university and those famous tournaments. From what I remember, and that is not a lot to be honest, I lost comprehensively in every game. In fact, in one game the opposition, having studied my form, asked if it was all right if he played with his track suit on!

Gradually one gives up sport although I should mention my career as an archer. My son had taken up field archery and was pretty good. So rather than spend all day in isolated forests I became a barebow archer. Lots of fun. It is with great humility that I admit to being runner-up for the 1993 Pacific Field Archery Barebow Mens title. OK, there were only two of us in that division and the points were 1320 first and 567 second. But that didn’t diminish the thrill of the silver jingling around the neck.

So it was on the basis of those recollections that I applauded the commitment of Minister of Sport Murray McCully to the promotion of sport in primary schools. That is where it begins. Schools are central to sport in New Zealand and any government that recognises this is on to a winner – literally.

If we are serious about sporting success then we have to be serious about the success of sport in schools. Getting kids involved is more important than worrying about the preciousness of quality coaching until about the age of 12. Then it should start to get serious for those who exhibit superior skill and potential. And any funding regime that ignores the pool of talent in the Counties Manukau region simply doesn’t know that if you want to buy good fish you go to a fish shop!

Secondary schools are critical and SPARC would be better to focus on this amazing pool of talent if it is really serious about elite performance. But regions such as Counties Manukau suffer from underfunding because of the emphasis on programmes. Thank goodness for trusts such as John Walker’s Find Your Field of Dreams in Manukau City. This trust recognizes that mass participation is the base on which elite sporting performance is based and sets out to do something about it.

I think that the days of provincial competition in various sports are finished and that a better format needs to be found. I have no hesitation in promoting the notion of “college sport”. There is much to commend a national sporting competition in different codes (rugby, soccer, netball, hockey, volleyball, basketball and perhaps others) that pits tertiary institutions (the universities and the larger polytechnics) against each other.

In such a competition young people of sporting talent would produce games of high interest and we would be secure in the knowledge that these young people were working towards real qualifications in real areas of achievement. The myth of USA sporting scholarships is just that and so is the mistaken view that USA college sportspeople both get huge payments and are excused academic work.

This is the future of New Zealand sport – linking it more closely to the education system. It is a sound investment getting general commitment to sport in primary school. Building on the specialist skills at secondary school and then giving sport real expression by a national competition that would well and truly capture the imagination of the nation.

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