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Are You in This for the Love of Sports and Winning? The New Academy …… Sport Academies

There is a plethora of “For the Love of Whomever” television shows out there. Most of the time, a D-list celebrity tries to find love and the world is his or her oyster. The producers place a casting call and they reel in the candidates. The celebrity or wannabe then has his or her pick from a group of many beautiful people. They go through some iteration of events or tasks, and every night the show culminates with some glass tipping event where “contestants’” are asked whether they are in this for the love of whomever. The whole act is absurd and a bit of a sham. There is always a season two and sometimes season three. Calls go out for new contestants, and the producers sit back, watch the ratings and line their pockets. 


 Television isn’t the venue where this game of debauchery is played out. I also think that I see this same sort of for the love ‘whomeverism’ play out in high school sports across the country. Take for instance the so-called, wannabe K-12 academies and some technical schools. Once an East coast-West coast phenomenon, such schools seem to be cropping up in unlikely places (like Fort Worth, Texas). I argue the schools are a sham, but so is the coaching—recruit from the best high schools all over the state. Heck you should win. 


 Not all academies are wannabes. There are a number of long-standing academies and prep schools around the U.S. that recruit or attract excellent students who perform both in the classroom and in their respective athletic field. However, typically those schools do not promise a starting position on some sports team or free tuition — pending performance. The whole thing plays out like a one-night stand or a season of “for the love of whomever”. In addition, there are a few academies that resemble the cheesiest of love matching shows. They come equipped with a wannabe coach who recruits the best athletes from teams all over a given state — in order to win. Now how much talent does one need to recruit the best talent from a particular state?  I argue who couldn’t win if you could recruit the tallest and most athletically gifted kid from ANY starting lineup on winning teams in a big state like Texas? Good coaches develop good players; they don’t recruit them from other teams. Plus, state school governing bodies and athletic policies keep illegal recruiting at bay for the most part.


 Before you start taking offense, take a closer look at some of the offensive fouls routinely performed by a some private or tech programs. First offensive foul: A few tend to be spaces (schools) where there is a recent focus on a revenue-generating sport — a new coach willing to do whatever to win. Second: since these academies fall under the heading of private or technical, the coaches know the rules for engagement are different. In fact, I often wonder whether there are any rules especially when it comes to recruiting. Third: Ask yourself, how are students who are close to failing in public schools and unable to pass state tests, somehow able to perform well on ‘rigorous’ private school entrance exams or do they really count for the contestants — excuse me, the students, who are recruited for athletic purposes? It’s simple. The schools are in it for the love of sports.


 These programs do not fall under public school rules and regulations, so they can do things public schools don’t usually do. And one of the things they have done well is recruit vulnerable students, who happen to be agile and tall. I have been watching several schools across the country for years that routinely recruit for basketball. Also, attending one of those academies sometimes means that the student no longer falls subject to standardized test. Is that such a bad thing? I think we rely way too much on those crystal balls. Plus, given the opportunity to succeed with a private education and no accountability test—what should a parent do — especially if their student has been unable to pass those accountability tests administered in the public schools?  The Academy can certainly save the day. Plus, they are in it for the love of the student … excuse me, for the love of sport.


 While I am happy academies are willing to educate despite test scores, the process is nevertheless questionable and troubling and I would argue not in the interest of the student and his or her parents. It is in the interest of the coach—winning. Again, I also argue that my 12 year-old daughter could be a winning coach if she were allowed to pluck one or two of the best athletes from the best teams across the state or the country for that matter— but then that might be called an AAU team, huh? 


 What should public schools be doing? We should all be revisiting the notion of accountability testing. They are not intended to make predictions about how students might fare in college, in their careers or in life. However, some believe them to be crystal balls. Parents who know their children may not pass those tests may be more likely to move their students to academies where, quite frankly, testing may not matter. Now let’s not let the academies off the hook. These so-called academies should be questioned and held accountable too. To me, however, their job is fairly easy. All they need to do is pull out a measuring tape. The governing and accrediting bodies for those schools should be a little leery if a significant amount of all male students that have been recruited to certain schools are well over 6 feet tall. They should be even more leery if a significant amount of those males happen to have held starting lineup positions on other teams across the state or country. Lastly, if most of those males struggled in their previous institutions and miraculously passed the academies’ private school exam, then your school (or coaching staff) may just be in this for the love of winning.                                           


Dr. Robin L. Hughes teaches courses in Higher Education Student Affairs in the School of Education at Indiana University, Indianapolis.

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