High school football is undeniably a focal point in many American communities. Friday nights find students, parents, teachers, alumni and other locals on the bleachers supporting their neighborhood school. But this treasured pastime could find its funding cut in Florida high schools.
As part of Governor Rick Scott's proposed budget cuts, after-school sports for middle school and high school may lose state funding. For many, eliminating high school football has raised the most concern.
The budget cuts are part of Florida Gov. Rick Scott's plan to reduce state spending by $4.6 billion from its current $71 billion budget, which was announced last month. A significant portion of the cuts appear in the education budget. The plan calls to eliminate all noncore programs in elementary school, all non-neighborhood transportation, after school sports and programs in middle and high schools and all staffing for after school activities.
The state is attempting to strip public schools of extracurricular activities while keeping the academic core of education intact.
It would be difficult to argue that band and sports should stay while math and science should be cut. But for some, extracurriculars are just as integral to a child's education as academics.
Earl Johnson, a Jacksonville parent, told a local reporter that he thought sports help students off the field as much as on the field. "It helps them to do things with their time, it keeps them from being idle," he said. "I believe it even helps to keep the crime rate down."
Deandre Johnson, an eighth-grader who plays for his middle school football team, said that sports can help students focus. "Some kids aren't mentally ready for school," he said.
At many schools, a minimum grade point average is required for students to be eligible to play sports. Students who otherwise might be failing courses can be motivated to improve in order to stay on their team's roster.
Sports have also traditionally been a method for underprivileged students to get admitted to colleges and universities. Scholarships are offered to student-athletes whose families can't afford to send them to a four-year university. Many students are offered the luxuries of an expensive education by virtue of their skills on the court or the field. Taking away school sports in public schools would eliminate this opportunity.
However, while the outcries of cutting after-school sports are mostly focused around football, in many ways this is the most logical first cut. Maintaining a football program is more expensive than maintaining other sports programs. Football is only played by boys, making the sport available to only half a school's students. And it's usually the most dangerous of school sports, leaving many players sidelined for concussions, breaks, sprains and tears every season.
But despite these arguments, high school is eponymous with football -- at least for some. And it seems unlikely that if football were sacrificed to preserve after-school music and theater programs all the athletes would be lining up to join the band.
Football has its place in school extra-curricular activities. Now those in charge of state budgets have to decide if it's worth the cost.