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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Smart jocks: Students will show up for sports

High school students are back on the field, the court, the track and the pool, with participation in sports nearing pre-pandemic levels, reports a new survey.

The top sports for boys, in terms of participants, are football, track and field, basketball, baseball and soccer. For girls, the top five are track and field, volleyball, basketball, soccer and softball.

As schools struggle to get students to show up -- chronic absenteeism is way up across the country -- sports may be a more powerful motivator than ever.

Sports don't seem to be a distraction from academics, writes Robert Pondiscio of the American Enterprise Institute. Often student athletes have "better educational outcomes" than those who don't participate in sports concludes a 2014 University of Kansas study. State policy requires athletes to pass their classes to maintain eligibility, said Angela Lumpkin, a professor of health, sport, and exercise. Student-athletes had better attendance and a higher graduation rate than non-athletes.

In 2017, Baltimore City schools partnered with Under Armour, the sports apparel company, to renovate gyms, outfit athletes and encourage students to join a team. Four years later, say district officials students who played a sport for all four years in high school had a 98.5 percent graduation rate, compared to 62.9 percent for non-athletes. If the numbers are accurate, writes Pondiscio, they're "astonishing."

Students who learn the value of "hard work, teamwork, accountability, and resilience" on the athletic field may carry those over to the classroom, he writes.

Some coaches -- especially in districts or states with "no pass, no play" or minimum GPA policies, schedule mandatory study halls to ensure players remain eligible. Cincinnati high schools assign an academic coach to help student-athletes keep up their grades, wrote Stephen Sawchuk in Education Week in 2020. Some Ohio districts require a 1.0 (D) average, but Cincinnati sets a 2.0 (C) minimum.

Finally, writes Rick Hess, playing a sport may "provide the opportunity for young athletes to interact with an adult role model in a shared endeavor outside of the home.”

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