Are high school sports a luxury?

fnl_buddy.jpg On NBC’s critically acclaimed — and little watched — series “Friday Night Lights,” a high school principal, who happens to be married to the football-crazed Texas town’s football coach, fights a losing battle between athletics and academics. There’s plenty of money and support for a new Jumbotron scoreboard for the football stadium in the down-and-out town. But not much for academics.


In Woodbury, the football field at the new high school, which opens next year, awaits the action. An enclosed press box and lights are part of the amenities. It sits in the shadow of spiffy — and expensive — new baseball diamonds, right next to more than a dozen baseball fields and soccer fields at the city’s Bielenberg sports complex.

In today’s economy, are these luxuries? Is there still a worthwhile purpose for high school sports?

Woodbury has not one, but two youth athletic leagues which run in-house and traveling programs for the major sports. Kids in the city have no shortage of avenues to sports participation. That’s not always the case, especially in rural areas of the state.

But a Star Tribune story offers a reminder why schools don’t want to get rid of sports, aside from their status as the most sacred of sacred cows. Minnesota allows open enrollment — school choices. They can go to school wherever they want. Tuesday’s story raised questions about whether some schools — Hopkins was the focus of the story — essentially employ “ringers.” If you don’t live in a district, or you only moved their to play sports — does the whole “community identity” excuse for high school sports still exist.

Woe be to the school district that doesn’t offer sports. Their athletic students will jump to another district, taking state funding with them.

Clearly, some district are looking to save money by cutting high school sports. The Minnesota State High School league, at the request of some central Minnesota school districts, considered reducing the number of games the schools play, eliminating classes and divisions in some sports, and getting rid of some tournament games. In the end, it decided to do nothing, at least not yet.

Mark Rusinko, a governor’s appointee to the Minnesota State High School League board of directors, suggested that if schools want to cut costs by cutting the number of games played, they could do so.

It’s a complicated process, Wally Shaver of Let’s Play Hockey pointed out. One school may save money by eliminating a game. Another school may lose $20,000 in gate receipts because of the lost game.

Some schools are raising the fees for participating. Others are scheduling sports doubleheaders so two sports teams can ride the same bus. But there’s tremendous pushback — especially in hockey — when the subject of reducing the number of games comes up.

But some districts have cut high school sports. Even the liberal Minnesota 2020, which might be expected to lead the cut-athletics-save-academics parade, lamented the loss of football, baseball, track, wrestling, and dance line in the Crosby Ironton district.

On Monday night, the school board in Marshall considered $600,000 in cuts. None of which — except for cheerleading, which was proposed for elimination — involved team sports programs.

Should school districts rethink the role of sports?

Let’s kick it around in the comments section.