Written By Bill Gosse for the Green Bay Press-Gazette
Last week, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association hosted the high school football championships at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.
Those seven games capped off a fall sports season in which more than 78,000 athletes competed in seven sports. Around 40 percent participated in football, 15 percent in girls’ volleyball and 13 percent in boys’ soccer. That’s quite a few kids participating in interscholastic athletics.
Being part of the football championships as an official gave me another firsthand reminder of how wonderful the high school athletics experience really is.
I had seen it in football every week for almost 20 years and a couple of times at state before this year. Seeing family, friends, the band and cheerleaders creates an atmosphere that impacts teens. I know I was as excited as all of the kids.
The atmosphere was electric, and Camp Randall wasn’t even close to being filled. Since I’m not a regular at Badgers football games, I only can imagine what the noise level is like on a Saturday afternoon. This environment, this venue, this entire situation is something truly incredible for kids to experience. Having seen the excitement at the Resch Center for girls state championship volleyball, I’m confident it was the same at all the other state championship tournaments.
Why would anyone want to forego these experiences for the opportunity to play on a club team? Just for a scholarship?
I know the cost of college has become seemingly astronomical. Believe me, with five boys I have been keeping a watch on that. With less than 1 percent of athletes receiving full-ride Division 1 scholarships, is it worth taking those experiences from our kids?
A major college assistant basketball coach told me if kids are good enough in their respective sport, coaches will know about them. He went on to say that kids don’t have to play on AAU teams to be noticed.
Yet the growth of club sports teams continues. The fallout on the high schools from the growth of clubs can be seen across the sports landscape.
Coaches and players are burning out. Athletes are suffering overuse injuries. Schools are losing their two- and three-sport stars to specialization.
Students transfer because of their win-at-all-cost approach and club ties. Colleges help diminish the value of high school athletics by recruiting mostly from the club ranks.
However, high schools still offer an all-around experience that clubs can’t provide. From what I understand, the United States is the only country in the world that offers sports through its school system. Every other country has clubs where only the elite athletes or the wealthy can compete. Is that what we want?
When our game at state was drawing to a close, I strolled up to the kicker getting ready to kick-off. His team was about to win, and I was about to hand him the ball, as is my task. I could tell he was teary-eyed. This senior was about to make his final kick for his final football game for his school’s first state championship. The emotions of the moment were overcoming him, and it made me think how special he was feeling for his team, his community, his family and for himself.
This moment was priceless.