Archive for June, 2011

Ticket To A Better Education

Ask Crystal Smith, a high school track and field athlete from Wisconsin,
about the benefits of athletics, and she will tell you that college would have
been unaffordable were it not for her ability to throw the discus.
“I could have never afforded the $40,000-a-year tuition to Wagner
College,” confirmed Smith’s mother, Cindy. A single mother dedicated to
her daughter’s future, Cindy said that her daughter’s ability to attend college
was entirely a result of her participation in track and field.

According to the Department of Education’s National
Center for Education Statistics, the average student loan
debt among college seniors was a little over $19,000 in
2004. Today, 42 percent of college students graduate more
than $25,000 in debt, according to the Center for American
Progress, and graduate school students have nearly
$46,000 in debt. Adding to the financial stress, one-third of
graduates have more than $5,000 in credit card debt by the
time they graduate. Crystal admitted that she rarely thought of college while in high
school.

“Little focus was put on college, so I never realized how important
furthering my education could be,” she said.

Because Crystal excelled in discus, she earned a full scholarship to
Wagner College in Staten Island, New York. Smith is now a senior with
hopes of graduating on the horizon. After earning her bachelor’s degree in
chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry and minors in math and
biology, Crystal intends to earn a PhD in pharmacological sciences.

How many people in her hometown have a PhD in pharmacological
studies? She will be the first.

While undoubtedly inspiring, Smith’s story is certainly not unique.
Athletes who compete in Division I revenue sports like men’s basketball
also have been unsure of their path to getting an education. Jay Straight
grew up in the Robert Taylor Homes in the South Side of Chicago. During
this time, almost 100 percent of the housing development’s residents were
unemployed, and 40 percent of households were occupied by singlemothers
earning less than $5,000 each year.

Originally intended for eleven
thousand people, the homes’ number of occupants had expanded to nearly
three times that capacity. Gang violence and drug use were commonplace.
Fortunately, Straight was raised by his grandmother, who saw sports as
a way out of the impoverished life. From the time Straight was a young child,
his grandmother found opportunities for him to play, teaching him to ride
the bus across town to attend different basketball practices and clubs on his
own.

By the time Straight graduated from high school, he was among the
best scorers in the country. Recruited by Notre Dame, Marquette, Boston
College, Iowa State, and St. Louis, Straight chose to attend the University of
Wyoming, graduating from college in three and one-half years.
Today, Straight is a professional basketball player who had a seat in the
EuroCup. He has played for teams in Israel, Croatia, Ukraine, France, and
Poland.

“Not bad for a kid from the Robert Taylor Homes,” said Straight.

For kids like Smith and Straight, attending college is becoming more
and more of an obstacle, unless tuition costs are lessened by scholarships
and aid. The College Board, a non-profit membership association composed
of fifty-four hundred schools, colleges, universities, and educational organizations,
reports that despite an increase in tuition prices, federal student
aid is decreasing, making college seem out of reach for even children of
middleclass families.

According to U.S. News & World Report, the average sticker price for a
typical four-year university is about $16,400 a year—which includes room
and board, tuition, books, and ancillaries. The year-to-year increase in
college tuition and fees is outpacing the general inflation rate.

Aggravating matters, the normal public university student now takes more than six
years to graduate, which means the average public college degree is close
to $100,000. But when compared to the student-athlete average scholarship/grantsin-
aid package of $12,850 per year for those who attend public schools and
$21,266 for student-athletes attending private colleges and universities,
these tuition prices become within reach.

Why College Sports? Learning to Be a Team Player and Manage Conflicts

Young athletes learn to be team players and manage
conflict.

I would be lying if I said sports are not accompanied by conflict.
Young athletes get hurt, they fight with their teammates,
and they feel overlooked by their coaches. But with proper parenting,
these athletes work through adolescence and become
mature adults, confident to handle and manage conflict, which
they accept as a part of life. Because they had parents, a team,
and a coach supporting them, they aren’t paralyzed when
conflict rears its head. After all, they have likely dealt with
something very similar in the past.
A child who has experienced teamwork enters adulthood
much more equipped, said Coach Chmiel.
“So many things a person experiences while a member of
a team are seamless to the workplace: the ability to get along
with others, the ability to move forward in a group setting,
hard work, and dedication.

And let us not forgot one of the
greatest byproducts: You cannot compete in athletics in this
day and age if you are not color blind,” he said.
Coach Chmiel uses the football huddle as an analogy for

business.  “In a huddle, orders given are unequivocally followed, and
if one person does not carry out his assignment, there is immediate
failure,” Coach Chmiel said. “An athlete cannot look to
the left and challenge someone because of her socioeconomic
status. An athlete cannot look to the right and challenge someone
because of his race. An athlete cannot go to committee
with the play, and there is no room for discussion. An athlete
has thirty-five seconds to listen to the instructions, and then
he must take them and carry them out.”
Does this teach a kid to be a team player? Absolutely, and
this is a big triumph down the line when it comes time to
apply for a job. In fact, almost all of the skills a student-athlete
learns—time management, leadership, team work, commitment,
goal-

Why Sports? Learn to Be Gracious

Young athletes learn how to lose gracefully and win
graciously.

When I was in the seventh grade, I played on a basketball team
that was undefeated. We were on top of the world, a world we
thought was owned by our seventh-grade basketball team. No
one could beat us. I vividly remember my parents telling me
that they wished we would lose a game. At the time, I did not
understand.

Now I do. Eventually, we lost a game, ending the season
with a 39-1 record. Over the course of my life as an athlete, I
would go on to lose many, many more games. I learned that a
team can work and work and work and still lose in the end. I

learned that a seventh-grade basketball team doesn’t own the
world. I learned to take it one game at a time—that just as easily,
a winning team can become a losing team. I also learned to
respect my competitors, recognizing that regardless of a team’s
record, every competitor has his strengths and weaknesses.
No purer analogy for life’s victories and spills exists than
this.