Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

College Sports Excesses Seep into High Schools

An increasing number of high schools across the country are adopting some of the worst practices of college athletics, with too much emphasis on sports equipment and national publicity for young athletes.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Our sports commentator Frank Deford has kept us up-to-date on sports for years. And now it's getting to that time when he needs to be thinking about his legacy.

FRANK DEFORD: I've decided to rewrite my will. Now I'm certainly not forgetting my family. I'll leave my wife some pin money to buy those little extras she'll want to splurge for at the assisted living facility. And my children will surely be happy with that timeshare week in February I'm leaving them at the condo on the Jersey Shore.

But the bulk of my estate is going where it's really needed - to the athletic department at my old elementary school. There, the money will help renovate the weight room and build a 20,000-seat football stadium with a retractable roof for the disadvantaged little fourth and fifth grade student athletes at my alma mater.

Basically, you see, rather than correcting all the abuses of college athletics, we Americans are instead simply taking all that's wrong with college sports down to high school. And given good old American know-how, I figure that by the time I'm pushing up daisies the same sins will have reached the elementary school level.

Just as colleges recruit high school players, now high schools scout middle schoolers. There are now newsletters which identify the best sixth grade prospects in the nation. High school basketball players regularly jump across state lines to different schools. Some prep schools, so-called, are essentially just basketball or football teams attached to maybe one classroom.

More and more high schools are building larger and grander stadiums and gymnasiums. Often these are paid for with funds from high school booster clubs or organized town solicitations. This while of course schools the country over have to plead with taxpayers for academic funding. Even physical education for merely normal students is being cut back, eliminated.

Meanwhile, many school teams now schedule games all over the country. These varsities are like road show companies of Peter Pan. Although, of course, those lost boys at least get paid for their showbiz work.

Shoe companies outfit visible star teams. Boys who play football are fattened up like geese for pâté. Many high school lines average well over 300 pounds per man. Eat now and die young for dear old City High.

USA Today has long published national rankings of high school teams, and now my own magazine, Sports Illustrated, has also gone teen beat.

Gee, am I so quaint? Isn't it good enough for a kid to win his county championship? Do we really need to know whether the best girls' volleyball team in Georgia may be better than the best in Illinois?

Both ESPN and the Fox Sports Network regularly televise high school games nationally. Really, do we need this attention for teenagers? The bald fact is sports is growing in importance in schools even as book learning is diminishing. But in the United States, no athlete shall be left behind.

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INSKEEP: The comments of Frank Deford, who tops the national rankings as senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated. He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford