SPORTS BEAT by Colleen Boicey—Student athletes are serving burgers instead of delivering aces

Friday night football, cheerleaders and pep-rallies are a thing of the past for today’s high school students.

Times have changed and so has high school sport.

Potential student athletes are giving up their jerseys for uniforms at fast-food restaurants, clothing boutiques and grocery stores.

The need to make money now outweighs students’ desire and ability to take part in athlete culture.

High school sports no longer cater to those who can’t afford to play at the club or recreational level.

Instead, teams are the reserve for those who have free time to devote to sport because they do not carry the burden of having a part-time job.

Often, the same people who are already exposed to organized sport at the community level also play high school sports.

Working isn’t just about earning spending money. It is also about the need to save for post-secondary education.

In the past, tuition could be paid by working for one summer. This is no longer the norm.

Undergraduate tuition alone cost on average $4,000 in the 2003-2004 academic year leaving a thousand-dollar gap in tuition payments and no money left over to cover the cost of living without student loans.

Most students need to work while attending school, leaving little time for sports.

Some students manage to “do it all” with the help of parents who have time to shuttle their kids from sports to work or the resources to buy a second car.

This juggling act often leaves the average household with too many balls in the air – and the ball that usually drops is after school activities.

Unfortunately, not all parents can afford to leave work early or give up the use of a family car.

The balancing act also puts pressure on the athletic students. Something has to give, whether it’s grades, health or performance at work or on the field.

The presence of too many athletes who work part-time can also have a negative impact on team morale.

It’s frustrating for volunteer coaches and teammates to have athletes leave early or miss practice or games because of work commitments.

It can also breed tension when it comes to choosing lineups for games. The coach is often forced to choose between putting together an ideal, first-string lineup and giving playing time to the players who regularly attend practice.

Sports are an essential part of the high school experience. They have the potential to promote healthy lifestyles and encourage camaraderie and school spirit among students.

Universities also rely on high school farm teams for the post-secondary start of tomorrow.

Students need to see the rewards for making the decision to play sports. This could include better access to scholarships that reward students who live a balanced lifestyle.

Schools can do their part by ensuring they hire teachers who are willing to coach and by providing more recognition and incentive for those willing to volunteer their time and be valuable role models.

It’s time to apply the same scrutiny to high school sports programs that’s been given to the curriculum.

Sports at the high school level shouldn’t be yet another bastion for the financial elite.

All athletes should have the same opportunity to come out from behind the counter and on to the court where they belong.