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Potential School Sports Cuts Would Hit Students on Many Levels

Posted: Jun 25, 2012

LONG BEACH, Calif. – To gymnast Lindsey Oliver, 18, a senior at Woodrow Wilson Classical High School in Long Beach, her daily gym classes is her motivation for going to school.

“If I don’t do well enough in my classes, I won’t be able to be in gymnastics,” said Oliver, who must maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average in order to stay in sport.

Oliver said her coach would often allow her and her classmates to apply workout time to their homework to get their grades up if need be.

“Being in gymnastics has helped boost my grades as I have more incentive to try [hard] in school, so that I could compete,” said Oliver.

California’s Budget Crunch

However, like many states California has an ever-tighter financial crunch forcing near bone-deep cuts in schools, Oliver’s beloved gym class could soon be on the chopping block.

California Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised budget in May, in balancing the California’s $16 billion deficit, would, if passed by the legislature, lead to more cuts in school districts if his proposed tax initiatives on the November ballot— a temporary sales-tax increase and higher taxes on the wealthy – does not pass.

According to the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD), for instance, failure to pass Brown’s proposed tax initiatives would force it to cut around $29 million for the 2012-13 school year. Those cuts could further ax many vital programs in middle and high schools,, such as sports.

The Long Beach school district says that even if the tax measure passes, it would have to make some $20 million in cuts, but sports and physical education classes would be spared.

For Oliver, the impact of losing the phys-ed program would go beyond sports to good health, not to mention such life lessons as the experience of bonding with a diversity of others.

“To me, gymnastics is more than just a competitive [sport],” she said. “These girls are my sisters. I have grown in the past three years with most of them. Taking away something like a sport from people who have been in it so long is wrong.”

For others, it is about building a closer relationship with the school community.

Badminton and Belonging

“I did PE because for two years it was mandatory,” said Ariel Mercado, a Filipino American junior at Wilson High School. But she developed an interest in playing competitive badminton—a rising international sport and one her friends said she is good at. That has given Mercado confidence and built her a network of friends that gives her a sense of belonging to the school community.

“Badminton is important to me because it has helped me meet a lot of people, become more social, more fit, and feel like a part of something,” Mercado said.

If the school were to no longer offer the PE classes, her only opportunity to exercise would end. Mercado’s family would not be able to afford to pay a gym membership or private trainer for her to continue developing her athletic potential.

In Long Beach, where 70 percent students are eligible to receive free or reduced lunch, according to kidsdata.org, many families face the same struggle.

The possibility of losing physical education in schools may only serve to exacerbate an alarming phenomenon much of the country faces--obese kids.

Kidsdata.org, an organization focused on children’s issues, close to 40 percent of California’s 5th, 7th and 9th graders were overweight or obese. In Los Angles County, where LBUSD is located, 41.6 percent are overweight.

Racial Disparities

And racial disparity does weigh in as a factor in childhood obesity.

LBUSD figures show, for example, that among Long Beach students, about one-in-three African American or Latino youth are at the limit or outside of the healthy-weight zone. That compares with close one in five Asian or white children.

High obesity rates among some groups could be a result of less time for families to prepare meals at home, high soda consumption, and long periods in such sedentary activities, such as watching TV or playing computer games.

“I’ve been fat my whole life, and I just knew if I didn’t change I wouldn’t be happy,” said Jonathan Calix, a senior at Wilson High. He said he was never athletic, but after three years of PE classes, he learned to care about his health. When he began playing football, he shed many pounds.

With the closure of many public parks, schools have increasingly become the only place where kids can engage in regular exercise. Aside from that, studies have shown that academic performance increases when children participate in sports.

Stronger Academics, Less Smoking, Better Motivation

The U.S. Department of Education’s “High School and Beyond” study,  indicates that students involved in some type of athletic activity while in high school, tend to have stronger academic goals and fewer disciplinary issues. The American Medical Association has also found that student athletes are 40 percent less likely to smoke than nonathletes.

Back at Woodrow Wilson High, Lindsey Oliver said no matter what, cutting sports would erode a student’s motivation for going to school.

“I’d have to say that they’d be getting rid of the reason a lot of kids look forward to going to school,” he said.

Sharee Lopez wrote this article under a New America Media youth-education reporting fellowship, a program supported by the California Education Policy Fund.

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