As I flit around to the various high school gymnasiums this winter season, I've been asking a rhetorical question to coaches and parents I know and visit with - Is participation in the various prep sports declining?
We've all heard the past few years that many high school kids are disdaining participation in athletics because they think they can't compete with other team members, or they want to focus on part-time jobs, vehicles, girlfriends or boyfriends, funky clothes, jewelry, CDs, DVDs, academics, college plans, family situations, careers, drugs and alcohol, etc.
Another excuse that more and more kids are using to drop out of sports is the fact they don't like a certain coach or coaches.
Yo, kids. What a bunch of hooey! You may not like the mail man but you still read your mail; you may not like the deejay but you still watch that horrible MTV on television; and you may not like the dentist but you still chug the soda pops, gorge on the sweets and nix the flossing.
You're supposed to play your chosen sport because you love the game, not because the uniforms are cool, the cheerleaders pretty, you like bus trips, the sound of applause and the pep band, the smell of BenGay and the taste of Gatorade.
Oh, yes, and don't forget the fact you can only appreciate, like and play for a coach who treats you like you're the best thing to hit town since that Beyonce look-alike moved in next door.
One father told me the other night how terribly disappointed he was that his daughter didn't go out for basketball this season after playing it every season since grade school days.
"She's really pretty good and would have seen a lot of playing time this year," said the dad. "I just don't understand it. I don't know what gets into them to make such snap judgments like that. We've always encouraged her and never forced her into playing anything. When I played, I couldn't wait for the next sport to start. I didn't even care who the coach was, all I wanted to do was participate in sports, even if it meant sitting on the bench. It sure takes some of the fun out of going to the games now that she's not on a team."
Another father on another night told me his boy quit football and basketball because "He saw the writing on the wall" that he wouldn't be playing much because of too many other good athletes on the team.
So you cut and run without even giving it a shot? I said. What's that about? "I know," agreed the dad, his head bowed.
Just the other night, I visited with a mom and dad whose son didn't go out for basketball strictly because he didn't like the coach. Their boy is a very talented basketball player with vast potential. It's a crime if he doesn't see the error of his ways and use his God-given talent many kids and their parents would pay big bucks for.
When talking to coaches and parents about this, I always give my little spiel about impressing on the kids that they only go through high school once and that they'll never have another chance to play on their high school teams.
And no one can refute the fact that participation in athletics helps build character, comaradarie, lasting friendships and maturity, with the sweetness of success the perfect antidote for the bitterness of losing.
Sure, there are many kids out there who don't belong in athletic competition. This is not about them. This is about those who do belong.
Let's hope they all come to realize just what they're throwing away.
Way back in my high school days, I was going to quit one of my favorite sports because of work and a girlfriend. Then, one day a young assistant coach who was student teaching at my school pulled me aside.
"Struck, I've heard you're not going to play this season," said the coach. "Just let me tell you, those girls will still be out there after you graduate, and you'll be working for the rest of your life. Don't cheat yourself out of the opportunity to showcase the talent God has given you."
I played that season and all the rest and they remain some of the best times in my life. And, yes, those girls were still out there and I'll be working the rest of my life.
I didn't especially like that young coach, but lost in my oblivion was the fact he apparently cared enough about me and "the game" to say those riveting words that made all the difference in my high school career.
Hey kids, think about all this before taking the easy way out by dropping out.