Academics and extra-curricular involvement are not an either/or proposition. They are inextricably linked in the education of the whole person.
Just ask Dr. Fitz Hill about the role of athletics in Arkansas Baptist College’s miracle turnaround of its school and community.
Think back to your own experience. It was the students who were engaged in sports, band, spirit groups, drama, choir, yearbook, student government, newspaper, clubs and/or any number of out-of-class activities who performed best in school. They were accountable – to their coaches, directors and sponsors and to each other.
Now think to your present. If you want something done, ask a busy person.
Apparently, the Little Rock School District still has athletics – that fundamental source of school and community spirit and support. But the elected and administrative leadership seems loathe to even nominally support it.
It took Dr. Drake Hawkins, Verizon Wireless and the private sector to put a new surface on the home field of the most famous high school in America. And yet, I am told athletes can’t even use Quigley Stadium’s locker rooms because of mold and abominable disrepair.
Understand, this is the field of the vaunted Central High Tigers and their 32 state championships from 1907 to 2004. Even though it’s been eight years since their last one, they’re still 11 ahead of second place Pine Bluff and 24 above third place Barton. While recent years have been lean, the Tigers still hold the Arkansas record for most victories with 756 through 2010.
What does it say about priorities when the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau and Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism spend big bucks to market Central High National Historic Site as a major global destination, while its school’s students can’t even use its facilities?
And if that weren’t bad enough, every single game the most storied team in state history from the richest public school district in Arkansas plays outside of Pulaski County is at superior facilities.
I was always told, “If you’re going to do something, do it well or don’t do it at all.” The Little Rock School District should decide if it’s going to be competitive athletically. If not, admit it, and get out of the business. If so, get in it to win it. They can’t blame the charters for this one.
What goes largely unsaid during the constant sports talk radio lament that Arkansas is not producing enough D-1 talent in football is that the state’s largest and deepest pool of talent is being squandered by its school district’s indifference. As we celebrate Little Rock’s private school products Jake Bequette and Joe Adams, where are the public’s Keith Jacksons and Marcus Elliotts? They’re there. They’re just being denied the opportunity.
This is a simple fix. No studies, no consultants, no strategic plan required. All it takes is will, and a little Friday Night Lights competitive spirit from the board and administration. So if you’re reading, here are my top ten plays to return Little Rock – Central, J.A. Fair, Hall, McClellan and Parkview – to athletic glory, and thereby engender support and pride among students, parents and the community.
- Allow athletics, including off-season training, as a class-time elective with PE credit;
- Convert grades 6 – 8 middle schools to 7 – 9 junior highs;
- Synch high school athletic programs with feeder middle school/junior high programs;
- Empower head high school coaches to assemble staffs, including middle school/junior high assistant head coaches, and hold them accountable for performance;
- Return coaches to the role of campus disciplinarians – in the halls, in the lunch room, on the grounds
- Partner with City of Little Rock to share, enhance athletic facilities;
- Seek district-wide uniform sponsor, with consistent design – Little Rock above number, school name below;
- Host city-wide Homecoming, with all-school parade through downtown Little Rock and Battle of the Bands in War Memorial Stadium;
- Establish Little Rock Booster Club to raise private sponsorships to provide matching grants to school-specific parent/fan booster clubs; and
- Create, enhance spirit groups (e.g. marching band, cheerleaders, pom/dance squad, mascot, student booster club), then produce pep rallies before every home football game.
Instead of that next district-financed junket to the latest urban school district du jour, board members should get on a school bus and travel to the location of every Tigers away game outside of Pulaski County. When they get home, they should get in a huddle, and raise their seven hands to give their players the tools they need to succeed on the field and in life.