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New education leaders should keep athletics in mind

Decision time is looming for the McDuffie County School Board. Superintendent Ed Grisham and Thomson High Principal Bill Reese both plan to retire at the conclusion of this school year. Among the many criteria the board must consider in selecting new leadership is the candidates' understanding and acceptance of the role of athletics at THS.

No, I did not just write that athletics should be the primary concern of the board in filling these jobs. By no means am I implying that athletics should be put at the forefront. It must, however, be near the top of the list.

Dr. Grisham and Mr. Reese did not sacrifice academics for athletics. They proved that with the proper perspective, planning, and efficient use of available resources you can be well-educated and state champions too.

School leaders should not offer policies or budgets that put anything but the academic well-being of McDuffie County students first. But let them not fool themselves. Like it or not, athletics, especially football, always has played a huge part in the life of Thomson High and this community. The only thing that will change that is indifference at the top. A leader that shuns the importance of athletics can sink the ship in a hurry.

A successful athletic program makes a community proud of their schools. This is especially true in a system that has only one high school. Most McDuffie County kids eventually attend THS. This pride equates to the public being more accepting of supporting the schools with their actions, deeds and taxes. This sociological phenomenon, as difficult as it may be to understand, is an absolute fact. It is true not only in Thomson but all over this country.

Within the schoolhouse walls, athletics provide discipline and academic reinforcement for those that participate. Student-athletes are the first to learn to responsibly budget their time.

The National Federation of State High School Associations report that 10 million high school students participate on sports teams. The numbers don't lie. Every reasonable effort must be made by the school administration to ensure that our youth have quality opportunities to compete.

The new superintendent and principal cannot merely have a "let the coaches handle it" attitude. They should have an agenda that proactively meets the coaches' needs without micromanaging the program. They must be willing to support the teams with their encouragement and presence.

These new leaders must realize that varsity athletics is not merely a recreation program. A lot is at stake financially and competitively. Simply fielding teams will not and should not be good enough. The leadership must know how much hard work, time and expense go into even school level athletics. An administration's disinterested approach will mean you may as well abandon the program. Mediocrity will result in misery for everyone and a waste of money as well.

Our school board must find new leadership that accepts athletics as a big investment that yields an even greater return. If they do their homework, they can find prospects with such a philosophy. I, for one, will consider candidates without this philosophy unqualified for the jobs.

Web posted on Thursday, January 29, 2004

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