Small towns across the United States honor their high school sports teams for state championships with signs at the city limits. Basketball, football, maybe softball or soccer. Occasionally you'll get an unusual one like the sign in Wentzville, Missouri, honoring the 2009 Robotics Team.
Is that the best thing that has happened in Wentzville since 2009?
I didn't find much on the history of this practice. Getting those signs posted is not always a slam dunk. Earlier this year, the city council in Arab, Alabama, was debating whether or not to erect signs honoring the recent state wrestling champs and the state softball champs from 25 years ago.
Back in 2003, a retired physicist in Ohio was highlighted in an AP article. He wanted the town of Chardon to take down the decade-old high school football state champ sign and replace it with a sign honoring the middle school Science Olympiad team.
It's a basic rule of the universe that we tend to get more of what we encourage. If we encourage sports champions with signs at the city limits (and college scholarships for some and professional contracts for a very few), then we shouldn't be surprised that a lot of kids (and parents) take youth sports very seriously.
Not all athletes get equal treatment, of course. The high school near our house has a large, well-kept football field, a fairly nice basketball gym, respectable tennis courts, passable baseball/softball diamonds, and a soccer field that was squeezed into the leftover space.
What if cities had signs recognizing other community accomplishments?
- "Lowest juvenile delinquency rate."
- "Highest high school graduation rate."
- "Lowest teen pregnancy rate."
- "Most teen volunteer service hours."
- "Lowest divorce rate."
- "Highest employment rate."
- "Best municipal debt-service coverage ratio."
Keeping track of who wins sporting events is easy. Keeping track of all the complicated factors that help young people become healthy, happy, productive, responsible adults is much more difficult.
Don't get me wrong. I enjoy sports. My son Henry shows signs of being a jock, so I anticipate spending time with him on the field or court or track. And sports can help kids learn about life. But not everyone is into sports, and some of those who are end up with big heads and the consequences of really bad decisions. Organized sports will not save our country or our souls.
Perhaps our homes, schools, and communities should spend more time and energy and money encouraging a desire to pursue life-long education, a willingness to make realistic plans for the future, and a commitment to personal integrity and civic responsibility.
If that's what we really want.