If you walk into any high school in Suffolk County, you’ll be met by the hustle and bustle of sports. Trophy cases, team photos, banners hanging in the gymnasium, and parents double-parked outside waiting for their child to finish practicing. Buses are coming and going carrying our kids all over to compete against other schools. The booster clubs are out selling raffle tickets for new uniforms, while our many coaches are studying the films of the next opponent.
But is this all that there is to a sport and to those who participate? Is the climax of it all the trophy or the banner? Or is there a thread that is being sown much deeper into our children’s community through their participation in a sport?
Not too long ago I viewed a documentary about a community in the Miami-Dade area of Florida. This community specifically has an extremely high poverty rate, especially amongst its children. This community simultaneously has a crime rate that is just as high; it’s not rare to hear gunfire as the sun sets. Gangs constantly fight over blocks and territory where drugs are being sold. Drug addicts roam the streets at night figuring out a way to get their next high while alcoholism runs rampant through this community. Residents themselves have described it as a rough place to live and a rougher place to navigate as an innocent child.
Yet this community also produces more NFL players than any other community per mile radius in the United States. They pride themselves on their youth football league which is highly competitive; it’s a way of life there. Football is used to teach children hard work, punctuality, working well with others, and being a part of something bigger than yourself. The coaches believe that football is a way out of poverty for many children and has been proven to be. The practices, the drills, the team dinners, and taking the kids to see local college football games all help them dream bigger than just their block. They also implement the importance of scholastics and being an upright student in the classroom, without which a college won’t consider offering a scholarship. The coaches believe that even if their players never make it to a big-time college or to the NFL, they are providing the children with life skills and lessons that will help them be successful in life.
To bring it a little closer to home, I have witnessed this firsthand in my own community as well. We have some of the same struggles that this area has had. At the same time, we have young people who are being diverted by a basketball, a football, a soccer ball, or a wrestling mat. Young people are being given an option rather than hanging around being idle on the streets after school. Many of our coaches not only coach the young people, but they also care for them personally. I have witnessed the difference in a young person I knew was headed down a one way yet was turned around by joining a team. While most of them didn’t make it big, they did develop a work ethic and character that wasn’t there prior.
No matter what community you come from or reside in, sports are important. Get involved, sit in the stands, donate to the booster clubs, encourage our youth to put on a uniform. Sports are bigger than just the here and now, the trophy and the banner. They can be life changing for any child or teenager.