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Globe Editorial

School sports in shambles

June 30, 2009
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HIGH SCHOOL athletes and their parents, coaches, and teachers all value sports for making young people more disciplined, fit, and team-minded. Music, theater, and the arts provide many of the same benefits, but athletics have proven important in keeping especially boys from losing interest in school and dropping out. This is why it is so dismaying that sports have fallen on such hard times in Boston’s public high schools.

In a series last week, the Globe’s Bob Hohler portrayed a school sports program with too little money for coaches, trainers, facilities, equipment, and transportation. Pressed to meet academic needs, the Boston School Department spends less than half a percentage point of its total budget on athletics. That is well below the average for the state - 3 to 4 percent - and for the nation - 1 to 3 percent. Statewide, 68 percent of students play interscholastic sports, while in Boston just 28 percent do.

The contrast between the success and popularity of the city’s professional teams and the deplorable state of school sports could not be more stark. The teams should play a greater role in supporting high-school athletics. Responding to the Globe series, Mayor Menino has said he plans to create a nonprofit foundation to aid school sports. He said one professional team has indicated it would help launch the foundation and he hopes others will too.

Such team-backed efforts have been instrumental in other cities’ improvement of school sports. But San Francisco is using a more direct approach that Boston should consider if the foundation approach isn’t fruitful: The Giants and the 49ers agreed to nominal taxes on tickets that generate about $1 million a year for school sports.

Menino sees the foundation as more immediately doable than a new tax, which requires legislative approval. “How many years did it take to get the meals tax from the Legislature?’’ he asks. But one advantage of a tax is that it would survive changes in City Hall or in team ownerships.

The goal of strengthening the city’s sports program should not be to increase greatly the number of graduates winning college athletic scholarships, as welcome as that would be. More important is to keep young people interested in school and offer them the ladder to physical fitness and leadership skills that sports can provide. School Superintendent Carol R. Johnson recognizes sports as part of the effort to reduce the dropout rate, “and we understand how important athletics are in helping students learn about teamwork and sportsmanship,’’ she told the Globe.

The Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins all have a role to play in making more young people athletes and not just fans.

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