Johnson City Press Monday, July 28, 2014

Sports Sports Columns Douglas Fritz High schools

Balance key in academics, community

June 25th, 2014 8:57 pm by Douglas Fritz


If at first blush the reaction to this column is: “Well, yeah, he’s a sports guy,” my goal is to push that notion so far into the background it will be like trying to see a leaf resting on the side of a rock in middle of a dense forest from an airplane.

Science Hill basketball coach Ken Cutlip said, “Athletics and academics are one in my book.”

As a man who often pauses before speaking, seeming to gather the words and order them appropriately before they charge forth from his mouth, Cutlip shuns hyperbole (unless it is needed to make a good point). And there’s no gross exaggeration in those eight words he spoke.

As Science Hill deals with a Board of Education teetering on the brink of eliminating athletics as a whole — suggested by the group’s slim vote against the idea during Tuesday’s budget meeting — it seems perspective needs to be restored.

Enter Ken Cutlip.

Take a moment and think back to your high school days. How many of you were the star quarterback? I don’t see many hands raised. How many of you were basketball stars who walked down the hall a little differently, and got a second look from everyone? Still, few hands.

Now, how many of you ever put on jersey in any sport and felt like they were part of something? Lots of hands. How many attended a pep rally, or some kind of social gathering after the football game? Even more hands.

The point is athletics are an integral part of school. Just like math. Just like science.

And they are an integral part of a community that is being split apart at the seams by technology.

A high school football game draws the attention of people to one point for a few hours. It’s something in common with a few thousand people you would otherwise never see in person. Even if all you ever do is give some would-be stranger that “guy nod” (you know, the one where you’re too cool to speak or smile, so you tilt your head down and left), it’s still an acknowledgement of sharing an interest.

Some of this world’s oldest wisdom states the importance of competition: Do you not know in a race all runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.

But if you still can’t get on board with this notion, consider academia without athletics. Just look at the same school system that seems to flaunt athletics so carelessly over the abyss. Focus on one part of the athletic program at Science Hill: boys basketball. And ask this question: How many kids over the last 30 years would have had their lives negatively affected in a dramatic way without Hilltoppers’ basketball?

“Maybe 25 percent,” said Cutlip.

If this decision had been made 30 years ago, that’s a lot of kids who could have fallen through the cracks in a hard and serious way.

But Cutlip has a better statistic, buoyed by a better question, “Over the last 30 years, I would say 90 percent of the basketball players have been pushed in a positive direction, pushed to be better people, and in a better place in life.

“Athletics and academics drive each other. There are kids who are academics-first, and athletics gives them a second avenue to grow and mature. For others, athletics give them that driving force, and academics make them complete. Balance is how we produce successful people in society.”

Balance. Like a leaf on a rock in the middle of a dense forest.

Douglas Fritz is a staff writer for the Johnson City Press. Contact him at dfritz@johnsoncitypress.com.

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