Marolt: Kids and sports, here and in the real world
Religion, politics and sex are what we want to talk about, but we don’t unless we feel we have too many friends or are in the mood for an unwinnable argument. It’s best to leave those topics for letters to the editor where blowing on embers is an art.
The remaining topics are the weather, sports and kids. Weather is overdone. It’s usually short on meteorological facts and long on the same old, same old. Arguably, kids and sports are overdone, too, but if you put them together, you’ve really got some room for run-on sentences at the party.
With out-of-town friends, the direction to steer the conversation is toward the quantity of sports kids play. Before the teenage years, all kids everywhere are involved in about a zillion activities, so the conversation will drift into boasting about how talented all the kids are and complaining about how tired all the adults are. That’s OK. It’s half true. And since it is half true and boring, the party will end early so everyone can hit the hay, which is what most are craving more than chocolate mousse.
For those with older kids, the idea is to try to stay up late enough to make you feel young again. It never works, but the effort requires an involved conversation about kids and sports. It broaches the touchy subject about whether the kids play any sports at all.
Roughly estimating, which is always a mistake that is irresistibly tempting, I would say a quarter of our friends from the real world have children who participate in high school sports. Of that number, I would estimate that 95.2 percent of them play just one high school sport, and they do it most of the year.
Here in Aspen, most of our kids play a varsity sport in high school, a huge number of kids play two sports, a lot play three and some play four or more. When you tell people this, they tend to think you are lying or ask if steroids and human-growth hormones have been legalized along with pot.
The truth is in the demographics. It is really difficult to play a varsity sport at a big high school in a big city. There are the same number of spots on any given team as there are here but with possibly 10 times more kids trying out for them. That’s right! In big schools, kids actually have to prove themselves worthy to be selected for a team. Because the competition is so fierce, kids have to specialize. Because they have to specialize, it’s usually one sport or none!
I think we are fortunate here in small, glitzy town, USA, that our kids can pretty much play any sport they want to try. They may not be good enough to get a ton of playing time, but they will get a uniform, a participation award and the experience.
And, this brings us to the local conversation about kids and sports. This is oftentimes about how our teams are “watered down” because kids have so many choices. Regardless of almost any local team’s performance, it is always possible to say in our bleachers, “if only all the kids who are playing sport X were playing sport Y, can you imagine how good we would be? None of the schools we play even have sport Y, so everyone there plays sport X.”
Our sports programs are not as competitive as they could be. Some react by sending their student-athletes elsewhere. I’m not here to second guess those decisions that involve multitudes of factors. But, I will say that I think we are extremely lucky here with opportunities for our kids, and I am very satisfied. Great coaches, great facilities, motivated kids, supportive parents with just a few hovercrafts floating about — we’re spoiled.
We don’t need to be more competitive for any reason other than winning is the object of games and it’s fun. We don’t need to create an athletic scholarship factory. Academics are more important and more productive in that regard, anyway. Academic college scholarships outnumber athletic scholarships 70-1. And, if you’re worried about too many options for Aspen kids, study after modern study pretty much proves that elite athletes play a wider variety of sports until later in their lives than do near-elite level athletes.
I am amazed by how many former Aspen High School kids are playing or have played college sports. Lots of them got academic scholarships. Now, there’s a great mix of opportunities!
Roger Marolt has been around enough to remember the old jokes about being an athletic supporter. Contact him at email@example.com.