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What are High School Sports For?

Pete Springer/OPB

The Oregon Student Activities Association came out with new championship rules (PDF) last week, and even though we’re deep in the football state championship season, the reverberations are likely go beyond the gridiron. The new rules were the talk of Central Oregon and Southern Oregon, and at larger schools across the state.

This isn’t just about football — speech and band are also OSAA activities — but athletics seem to bring up the fiercest passions (and highest pricetags). At its most basic, the OSAA’s new playoff rules get to the heart of what high school athletics are supposed to provide.

Coaches and parents and various sports boosters talk about the many benefits of athletic participation: lifelong lessons in cooperation, dedication, and discipline. How important is league parity? And how much does parity — or a lack of it — affect your experience as a member of a dance or soccer or football team?

In other words, can you learn sportsmanship, and gain the full benefits of a team, if you’re always losing to better, bigger schools (or always beating smaller, weaker ones)? On the other hand, can you get the fullest measure of recruiter — and scholarship — attention if you’re not playing on the biggest stage?

Should high school athletics leagues — like the big-money college ones — privilege competitive matchups over local (if uneven) rivalries?

And can a hybrid system, which attempts to achieve parity without creating undue travel requirements, make everyone happy?


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