Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Rock and a Hard Place

The following thoughts are about interscholastic sports.

Dear reader, I suggest that you read them secure in the knowledge that they were written by a music teacher, one who has been specifically a high school band director. Therefore these are the words of someone who has not always been in a position to see eye-to-eye with school athletic department personnel, shall we say. If there is a community of people who just don’t understand why sports people have to consider themselves so damned important, nay, sacrosanct all the time, it’s us arts types.

Not exactly all sports people, though.

The Boston Globe reports today about a scheduling dilemma that arose this week, which managed to wonderfully highlight the long-standing conflict between some school athletics’ governing organizations and the educational institutions that theoretically they are supporting.

The story boils down to this:

The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) chose not to re-schedule its regional semifinal baseball game, scheduled for this morning (Saturday, June 7th), in spite of the fact that its start time directly conflicts with the administration of the SAT test.

Details: the game had been scheduled for this past Thursday, but the local weather forecast was questionable. So the two participating school’s athletic directors suggested moving the game to Tuesday, two nights earlier, after they jointly researched a mutually agreeable alternate location. The MIAA refused the request, stating that the location was too far for either team to travel. On Thursday, the MIAA announced a re-scheduling of the game to Sunday evening, in the interest of “completing the sectional” (whatever exactly that meant) by the end of this weekend – and then, within hours, changed its mind, and set the game for this morning.

Following team meetings yesterday (Friday), both athletic directors said their schools would play on “in some form” – after initially having considered mutually forfeiting the game.

Reportedly, any players who chose to take the SAT exam will have done so without penalty. One of the athletic directors said, “In the end, we are all here for academic reasons. Everyone in the administration is in full support of the players who will take the SATs.” And his school will reimburse those players who opt to play the game rather than take the test.

Those “academic reasons” are clearly concepts that the leaders of the MIAA have long since forgotten, or abandoned. The people running that organization, if they ever were teachers in a past life, obviously have not spent a whole lot of time near actual schools in a while. I don’t know whether it’s fair to try to create a direct analogy between this kind of state school-athletic governing body’s priorities and some of those displayed at times by the NCAA. But it wouldn’t take much imagination.

Let us set aside issues surrounding the SAT, including how much of a revenue generator it may be for a private company or two whose raison d’etre is not the education of students. And let us not deal with some colleges’ gradual move away from requiring their applicants to have taken that test – not all of America’s colleges have made that move, not by a long way. Regardless of any eventual SAT de-emphasis, currently it’s still something that college-bound students need to do.

Let us also set aside the fact that the two schools’ athletic administrators first jointly threatened to do the right thing and forfeit the game, and then caved to the pressure of their governing body (and probably also felt the pressure of “all that work done, all season long, by our student athletes, and then we’re going to deny them the opportunity to play for a regional title because of something that doesn’t affect absolutely every player? Is that fair either?” Which is something to consider, indeed. Okay, Mr. High School Marching Band Director … when your band has put in tons of work since the dog days of August, would it be any easier to pull them out of the State Finals in November for analogous reasons?).

But …

The MIAA surely (surely? maybe it’s not a foregone conclusion that they…) had access to school district calendars and important academic-activity dates. Surely(?) they would have been aware of dates that would present conflicts for a large percentage of its student-athletes. No, they may not be responsible for knowing the date and time of every A/V club fundraiser car wash … but this is the SAT we’re talking about. It’s not that obscure.

And this was an issue of re-scheduling. There was a choice to be made. The MIAA didn’t have to schedule an event in conflict with the SAT. But they went ahead and did it anyway. Because they could. Because, in their minds, the SAT wasn’t enough of a reason not to.

As a school music teacher, I have taken great pains to try to schedule concerts and other performance opportunities – our “games”, if you like – so as to create as few scheduling conflicts as possible. I don’t want to put any of my student musicians between a rock and a hard place: before they get to college, they should be able to experience lots of different activities: sports, music, drama, the list goes on and on. And students shouldn’t be caught between two different egomaniac activity advisors who know, know, that their activity is more important than anyone else’s. Surely we can all play nicely together?

It happens less often than it should. Some years ago, I gently eMailed my school’s girls’ tennis coach with a small request. When he replied, saying yes, I can easily live with having my team captain (we’ll call her Fern) miss the first half of one practice a week because she’s your bass player, and I think she should be able to participate as fully as possible in both activities and have a great senior year … well, let’s just say I was momentarily speechless. I replied to his eMail, thanking him for being very understanding and flexible, and the mutual admiration society was off and running. The only sad part of the exchange was that I felt like it was such a rare occurrence.

Happily, Fern’s tennis matches happened in the afternoon, and my concerts happened at night, so we didn’t have to further test the limits of this newfound detente. And those matches never happened on Jazz Band Afternoons – but I promise I would have played bass myself (a bad thing at the time), rather than keep Fern from playing number-one singles against the hated rivals.

You can imagine that it ain’t always so Little House on the Prairie.

In my head, I’ve always had something of a “priorities pecking order” at the ready. Games trump rehearsals … concerts trump practices … again, I check the sports schedule before scheduling my concerts … but concerts trump re-scheduled meets (and that’s not a hypothetical example; I fought that one about ten years ago). And then the athletic director and I would get in a room and I would still try and find some areas of compromise. Sometimes I shouldn’t have, but that’s my personality, for better or worse.

But the MIAA missed an opportunity to make some kind of small compromise, to acknowledge that the world is made up of more than just them, and instead gave a number of its student-athletes a very difficult choice to make. And all that did was to make them look that much more inflexible and arbitrary. Worse, it’s made them appear unconnected to the second word in their own title: interscholastic.

Horse, meet cart.

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June 7, 2014 - Posted by | arts, baseball, education, music, news, sports | , , , , , , , , ,

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