Education funding and sports

While University of Wyoming President Robert Sternberg resigned recently after just four months at the helm, one comment he made while in office raised much criticism.

He said the school should be spending more money on athletics. While UW alumni and others invested in the school protested this idea, the argument could be made that as a nation, we already spend too much money on sports in our schools.

An article in the October edition of The Atlantic examined this very topic. According to the article, in 1961, the sociologist James Coleman noted that a visitor entering American high school “would likely be confronted, first of all, with a trophy case. His examination of the trophies would reveal a curious fact: The gold and silver cups, with rare exception, symbolize victory in athletic contests, not scholastic ones…Altogether, the trophy case would suggest to the innocent visitor that he was entering an athletic club, not an educational institution.”

For many of us, that paragraph conjures images of our own school entrance.

When budgets are tightened at school districts around the country, the arts, staffing and other aspects of schools are cut before it is even considered to look at sports.

In “Educational Economics,” Marguerite Roza analyzed the finances of a public high school in the Pacific Northwest and found that the school spent $328 a student for math instruction and $1,348 per cheerleader.

­Those numbers would likely be just as shocking here in Wyoming, but the real cost of sports is sometimes difficult to pin down. Beyond the salaries of coaches and equipment, the cost of sports includes the need for substitute teachers when teacher/coaches travel for games, bus rides, hotel rooms, meals on the road and other items that add up to a lot of money. High school and college sports have become deeply ingrained in our society and arguments could be made for the benefits of organized athletics. Sportsmanship, teamwork, physical fitness and time management are all skills that can be learned from participation in team sports.

But it is interesting that as more countries graduate students at a higher rate than the U.S., such uproar was the result of Sternberg’s comments. We wonder if the reaction would have been similar if he would have suggested cutting the sports budget significantly. What would the reaction be at local high schools if sports budgets were reduced?

Perhaps his comments regarding sports spending should spur a larger conversation about where the educational funding for our students is spent — in the classroom or on the field.


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