Beyond The Score

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Montpelier’s Sports Culture is Changing

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Back in January 2011 I wrote a piece titled “Where Have the Fans Gone.” It was about the change in MHS sports culture and lack of community support from students and teachers at sporting events. Not too long ago the MHS gym would have been full of raucous basketball fans. They were wild and full of excitement. Slowly this began to change, not just in basketball but all sports at MHS. It seemed a sign of things to come. Not only were things changing at MHS but in central Vermont. So why the change in sports at MHS? Where have the Fans Gone? In fact, Where have the Athletes Gone?

Since writing that piece community support for competitive sports has been greatly lacking and the quality of skill in students-athletes is also lacking. Fewer and fewer kids are playing competitive sports. Montpelier no longer has a football team; they used to dominate the league. No longer is there a girls softball team. The softball field behind the school is used as a parking lot for the Farmers’ Market or other non-school events. Also, boys and girls hockey no longer exists at MHS. The Vermont Principals Association allows MHS students wanting to play hockey to join the Northfield teams. Track and Field is now an independent sport and the few student-athletes with interest train with U32 High School. There are a couple of programs at MHS survving the sports culture change; tennis and soccer. Tennis has an off-season connection to First and Fitness Racquet Club and soccer benefits from the developing players in the Capital Soccer Club.

I remember the day when close to eighty-five student-athletes competed in track/field under coaches Rome Aja, Charlie Phillips and Ed Skea. It was an amazing sight to see the fields around the school full of athletes training and developing skills so they could compete at very high levels. Today the few sports that remain at MHS are suffering from a lack of participants and highly skilled athletes. The School Board recently suggested dropping baseball for just that reason. Some think it has more to do with declining enrollments but I feel it has more to do with a change in how families and students make decisions about participating in school and in the community.

A general observation, which probably shows my age, is that students today are “spread so thin that you can’t taste the flavor.” Parents want their kids to experience everything. I don’t disagree with that because a taste of something helps you make decisions about what you’d like to do. If you experience a wide variety of things and avoid striving to be really good at something then you become more of an observer of life. People that have skills and achieve at very high levels are successful. Competitive sports teaches you that.

I remember the day when the numbers of kids wanting to play competitive sports was so large that kids had to try-out for a team. Many didn’t make it so they would work on their skills during the off-season hoping to make it next year. They had goals and the enthusiasm to work hard to reach those goals.

Currently the MHS girls’ basketball team has seven players on the varsity and many are freshman. They are struggling to compete. These kids have great attitudes and they don’t appear to get down from not being able to compete. They play hard and give it their all. You can’t ask for more. They seem to be having fun. So if we measure success in terms of doing your best and enjoying what you’re doing then these kids are successful.

MHS Girls vs Oxbow

Why play any sport? The reason we keep score is to see who wins. To compete. To challenge yourself and an opponent. Losing day in and day out takes its toll on any competitive athlete, especially one that strives to excel. It takes a special quality of character to continue the struggle against the odds facing the MHS girls basketball team. Those seven – this magnificent seven, have those qualities. They are all in this together and they demonstrate a willingness to make the best of this journey. It is a struggle and they are facing it with strength of character and enthusiasm. Hopefully the thrill of competition drives them and they will welcome the challenge.

Sport teaches you how to work together and develop high level skills. It builds community and helps players strive to be successful. Some measure success in winning. I measure success in knowing that I made the effort to do my very best. To achieve what I am capable of doing!

Striving for excellence and digging in to be really good at a sport requires time and commitment. Going through the motions and experiencing little bits of life is not success. It’s neglecting your potential. It’s cheating yourself of the gift of knowing you can be great at something because you did more than experience it. You mastered it. You set goals. You worked hard to attain them.

I started this conversation wondering where the athletes have gone. Maybe they are dancers, actors, musicians, artists or something other than sport. You suffered through my ramblings about the past and my thoughts on sport and success. The community and culture around competitive sports in Montpelier is changing. Maybe you can offer your thoughts on why MHS sports are declining and what does the future bring for competitive sport in Montpelier.  What is the message parents and students are sending us as Montpelier moves away from competitive sports? What replaces it?

MHS Girls Basketball 1990

Written by admin

January 25th, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Posted in General Discussions

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