Cheering crowds can be heard throughout the North Country this fall. And why not? Student-athletes from our schools are accomplishing some remarkable feats on the gridiron, in the gym, on the pitch, on the cross country course and in the pool.
Peru looks like a state championship contender in football. Chazy is again dominating girls soccer. Ticonderoga hopes to be one of the top teams at this year’s state cross country championship race.
There’s plenty to cheer for — on and off the playing field. Many of the region’s best athletes are also the best students. That’s no surprise. Study after study has shown the positive aspects of interscholastic sports.
A doctoral study of high school athletes in North Carolina has shown high school athletes routinely out-perform non-athletes in the classroom.
“The most surprising aspect of the study was not that athletes as a whole do better, but the percentage of difference for each of the seven variables,” said Gary Overton of East Carolina University, who did the report. “To have a major difference in one would not have been surprising, but in all seven is a different story. And the differences held true for whatever comparison we were making or however we examined the data — by gender, by different ethnic groups, no matter how we did it.”
The study looked at grade point average, attendance rate, two different end-of-course testing components, discipline referrals, dropout rate and graduation rate. The results:
— the mean GPA for athletes was 2.98 and for non-athletes 2.17;
— the mean school on year-end tests in algebra was 8 percent higher for athletes and 11 percent better on year-end English exams;
— athletes missed 6.3 days of school a year compared by 11.9 for non-athletes;
— discipline referrals for athletes were 10 percent fewer than for non-athletes;
— the drop-out rate for athletes was less than 1 percent, while non-athletes left school at a rate of 10.32 percent; and
— high school athletes graduate at a rate of 99.4 percent; non-athletes 93.5 percent.
Overton’s study just looked at North Carolina high schools, but similar studies have been conducted by the University of Michigan, University of Kansas, University of Iowa and others. The results are all the same. Athletes generally fare better in a classroom than non-athletes.
And it’s not just athletes who benefit from extracurricular activities. Studies looking at students in music, art and drama programs show similar results.
These studies should not be a surprise to those of us who cheer from the sidelines and applaud in school auditoriums.
Sadly, though, many of these successful programs have already been eliminated from area schools. Gymnastics, wrestling and swimming in the North Country are on life support. Almost every school in the region has made cuts to athletics the past few years — particularly at the modified and junior varsity levels — as school boards have struggled to balance budgets.
And it’s not just sports. Music, art, drama and academic enrichment programs have been cut to meet the state’s tax cap.
Next spring school boards will again be faced with making difficult choices as they prepare budgets. Those of us who enjoy and support our students in extracurricular activities now should make a mental note to do the same in a few months by making that support known to school board members.
While most of us enjoy the exploits of students on the playing field and in the auditorium, it’s important to remember it’s not all fun and games. Extracurricular activities teach lessons outside the classroom while serving as a source of entertainment and pride in a community.