Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Why It Should be "Boys" and "Girls" Sports....

In Building Your Own Conscience, William O'Malley wrote "The first step toward wisdom is to call a thing by its right name. Then you'll handle it as it deserves." I agree, and that is why I would like to launch some campaign to standardize an important descriptor for high school athletics. They ought to be known as boys' and girls' sports. 

I have held this conviction for some time. However, I was reminded of it when I saw a read in Catholic Scoop that "Neumann-Goretti Becomes First Boy-Girl Catholic Hoops Champs Since 1968." I opened the link and underneath the headline was a photo of their star basketball player, Ja'Quan Newton. My eyes met a contrast; it almost seemed odd. Newton may not look like a boy, per se, but he's not an adult either.

And that's because high school students are not men and they are not women. They are teenagers; they are freshman, sophomore, juniors and seniors. They are young men and young women who are growing in age and wisdom, height and stature, toward independence and out of adolescence. But, that process doesn't happen overnight. 

In "High School Maniacal" Maureen Dowd writes,

High school looks like the beginning of adulthood and feels like it, but it isn’t adulthood. It’s some kind of dress rehearsal. It’s the first experience of a grown-up emotional and physical life, where you feel the rush of your powers and your vulnerability. Every reversal is gigantic. It’s a perfect storm of potency and ignorance, power and inexperience…” ~ The New York Times, Feb. 5, 2014, 
And no where is this more true than on the basketball court or the soccer field. I believe athletics is a very important arena to let young people be just that and nothing more. 

The words we use to describe our teams and their level/ability is very important. You wouldn't confuse a varsity team with the Frosh B squad. It would be an error to think that girls' field hockey and girls' lacrosse are the same sport. In that same spirit, I think it's inappropriate to refer to high school teams as "men's water polo" or "women's volleyball." Furthermore, I have coached freshman girls who were so talented and fast that they ended up running on the varsity team. To refer to a 14 or 15 year old girl or boy as a man or woman is more than misleading; it's simply not true.
What a great group of girls...two freshman!
And I don't think our society knows exactly how to define much less relate to teen culture. Too often, I hear people describing it at its worst; perjorative remarks abound. When I tell folks I teach high school, I hear "I could never do what you do." But one thing that sustains me in working with young people is the reminder that on my best days and theirs, I find that these young men and women still have the heart of a boy or a girl and the sense of fun that goes with it.

For example, the past two weeks the corn hole set in my classroom has taken a back burner to one of the simplest games there is: Roshambo aka "Rock-Paper-Scissors." It is ridiculous to me how much fun I have with a few of my students before and after class with "two out of three." One day, as a student and I were about to face off, he said to me and his friend—with total and complete sincerity—"no one has the guts to go paper." 

I couldn't believe he had actually thought long and hard about this. And then again, of course he had. He's 17 years old. He's a young man who plays boys basketball. Competition, his teammates and his friends mean everything to him. So does the option for scissors.

It was in that spirit that I asked him and two basketball players (one boy and one girl) to stay after class. I told them about Neumann-Goretti's quest for the dual-championship. I said their star player Ja'Quan Newton told his teammates that "we had to do our part after the girls won." I wanted to know, Do you feel that same way?

Without batting an eye, they all said "yes." They told me "we think of it as a sibling rivalry. We always want to know how the boys are doing (and vice versa)." Sounds like boys and girls to me. I love it. 

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