Russell and Duenes

Public Schools: Where’s the Gym?

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school busThat was my first thought when I visited Redwood Christian’s high school campus back in 2001. The public high school from which I graduated had a huge gym, two swimming pools, both baseball and softball fields, a large football stadium, tennis courts, a weight room, a wrestling room, and an extra soccer field (in addition to the football field where the varsity team played). When I arrived at Redwood they had a soccer field in back and . . . a soccer field in back. Of course, when the Superintendent remarked about Redwood’s campus, “Isn’t this great!” I said “yes,” but couldn’t help feeling disappointed inside. I tried not to let this bother me, but there was no avoiding it. I played team sports throughout my high school years and loved it. Wouldn’t trade it for anything. Our varsity football team was 1-9 both years I played (and I suffered a season-ending injury halfway through my senior season), but I look back on those playing days with great fondness.

I have three boys. Knowing my own love for sports, my guess is that some, if not all of them will play and enjoy sports too. Of course there is AYSO soccer, little league, and all sorts of other non-school sporting opportunities when kids are younger, so public school team sports are not so important then. But what about the junior high and high school years? What if one or more of my sons really begins to excel at sports and wants to play? Of course, private Christian schools generally have sports, as Redwood did, despite its lack of on-campus facilities. This by itself nullifies the “you can only play high school sports at public high schools” argument. But what of those who home-school? The family I lived with in the Bay Area had an oldest son who was quite good at basketball and loved to play, but because he was home-schooled, he was reduced to a recreation league in Berkeley, which wasn’t competitive, and then pick-up basketball every now and then. His younger sister, by contrast, was put in the public schools during the middle school years and did so well at basketball in high school that she will be playing next year for the University of San Francisco on scholarship. What if she had never gone to public schools and her parents could not send her to a private Christian school?

A couple of thoughts. First, athletics have evolved quite a bit since I was in high school. Sure, you could play club sports back in the 80s, but virtually no one did. Now, it’s a massive enterprise. Between fall ball, traveling teams, AAU, swimming clubs and the like, kids can play all manner of sports year-round, no matter what kind of education they’re getting. If a kid has talent, she can play somewhere. It may not be cheap, but it’s not always cheap to play sports in school either. Thus, if my boys are still being home-schooled during their junior high and high school years and they want to play sports, I feel confident we’ll be able to find a venue for them. We’ll do our best. It may turn out that they love sports such as skiing, snowboarding, waterskiing, hunting, fishing, archery, golf, biking or hiking, all of which can be done outside of school.

Second, my friend and other namesake on this website (who would “increase my joy”, as St. Paul says, if he would heed my pleas to display his great writing talents on this page every now and then) has influenced me quite a bit in how to think about sports. He too enjoyed his days of playing sports. Yet he has tried to consider sports from the standpoint of the gospel. No one can doubt that competitive sports have the potential to teach worthy virtues such as teamwork, comraderie, perseverance, struggle, humility, skill and discipline. I do not downplay these in the least. At the same time, sports clearly occupies an idolatrous place in American life. The NFL is akin to a worship service on Sundays, the amount of money spent on sports is crazy (by one estimate, the NFL’s 32 teams made $8.4 billion between themselves in 2010, and Americans spent some $8 billion on sports logo clothing in 2009), competition is given an ungodly primacy (St. Paul’s “do nothing from selfishness or vain conceit” has almost no place in our sports culture), and the general direction of sports is toward self-adulation. It consumes life. How many families run themselves ragged each week getting their kids to sporting events?

I will continue to enjoy sports, and I will sign my boys up to play sports. But should they not be highly interested in sports, that will be fine with me. And I hope that my wife and I will place sports in its proper relation to other things in life where our boys are concerned. What matters most to me is that they love our Lord Jesus and that their hearts and minds are formed and shaped to worship Him and follow Him wholeheartedly. I do not see competitive team sports as necessary to achieving this end. It certainly can promote it, but it would not be worth sacrificing an explicitly Christian education just so they can play team sports. These are not mutually exclusive, of course, but I would not want to put the sports cart before the gospel horse. What I think we should strive and stretch for in our educational endeavors is “the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14). If my boys learn to “boast only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14), then sports will find its proper place in their lives. It is not imperative that they, or any other Christian kid, attend public schools to find this place.


Written by Michael Duenes

July 13, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Posted in Duenes, Education

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