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Sunday, April 15, 2012

The PIT of Dispair

As I sifted through the ruins of what had once been Mance Lipscomb’s home, trying to salvage whatever mementoes might still remain, one image burned itself into my brain. At the very gate of the front yard, someone had left a pile of random sports trophies. Basketball, baseball, you name it. Some Lipscomb progeny, perhaps more than one, had done quite well in school athletics. The pile was just a small portion of the scores of athletic awards that were strewn all over the house, broken, tarnished, unceremoniously left behind. Whatever they represented in human terms had been lost. The talent, sweat and pain associated with winning such an arsenal of prizes seemed to parallel the achievement of Mance himself, yet like Mance’s legacy, the glory of achievement had subsided and the true results of the effort were less obvious, if discernable at all.

Those trophies were such a hollow victory, merely symbols of a moment in time, where an individual excelled and bested others… icons to forever remind any onlookers of those victories. Or not. They only reminded me of how we still fail in the cause of education, and social equality, when we consider youngsters like these grandchildren of Mance Lipscomb. So many trophies. Trophies that have come to represent unrealized dreams. Only later does youth learn that trophies do not translate into success in life.

How many generations have we watched pass through our schools, knowing damn well these children were not college bound, not bred to realize the American dream, and barely able to endure the gamut our culture had imposed on them? To how many generations have we dangled sports trophies and scholarships in order to lure them into our institutions, put them in uniforms and send them into battle to defend our regional pride? How many generations of these athletic warriors have done it, finding a temporary significance, never understanding that in most cases, these would be the happiest, most fulfilling, and sadly the best years of their lives? How many of these used up warriors have we seen, a year after graduation, hanging out in some lowly place, disappointed, jobless, and even dejected, with little or no vocational training, and no further education to prepare them for any kind of life? They pathetically nurse their injured limbs, their fractured egos, and remember their broken dreams. And they probably replay, in their minds, the broken promises of our educational system.

“Sport’s prepare young people for life.” If you are one in a thousand. Life is not a game. And it’s score is measured in health and security, neither of which comes as a result of High School athletics, unless you are a coach. High School sports do teach that individuals who have exceptional ability get special privileges, different rules and boundaries, and lots of incentives to make the sacrifices worth it. That may be life for some, but it is not true for most of us. Instead it is the cruel, dog-eat-dog part of life we should be fighting instead of feeding.

“Sports are a great way for underprivileged youth to get college scholarships.”
It is a way. But it is not a feasible plan for most High School athletes. Academics will always be far safer and offer much better odds, and are thus a far worthier focus. Sports are just fine until a young person gets hurt. There’s the rub. Most injured High School athletes depend on their parents to provide adequate health care… Underprivileged youth often end up just broken, former athletes, in huge debt, with no Plan B. This is pretty much what happened to at least one of the Lipscomb “stars.” A few ultra-talented kids will get scholarships every year. What nobody ever does is weigh the price of those educations won by an elite few against the cost in flesh and blood of the many, who never make it. The flesh and blood represented by trophies, many of which are piled in heaps at the gates of our black patriarchs, who could never have imagined their dreams for their grandchildren to be so misguided, and their own dreams, like those of Dr. Martin Luther King, would still be unrealized in 2012, maybe more distant now than when they looked into the hopeful future during the Civil Rights era.

It is no longer prejudice that is the enemy, but institutional foolishness.

Sports Scholarships are a shameful ruse, which lure unsuspecting youths into a flesh grinder for college recruitment, television advertising rights and huge institutional profits.

We all love sports, be we have allowed them to become a vicious racket, that takes advantage and then neglects the very youngsters we claim we are trying to educate. And that racket very deftly justifies bigger and better sports facilities, with all the frills… and possible jobs and “economic development.” I remember cringing a few years ago when I calculated the actual cost per game for the new turf the District installed in the new football stadium, even if the field lasted the projected ten years. And that was with the erroneous assumption that at least half of the District games would be played in our stadium. Navasota schools have been caught up in an embarrassing dilemma, as this fairly new football stadium required new turf, so soon after installation. It turned out to be not such a good idea. And now many taxpayers, who are not as informed about the causes and excuses, have confused but not so misguided perceptions.

Whatever the reasons, they see a problem with educational priorities. Given the few games actually played on that field, even with cost pro-rating, each game played has cost the District many thousands, just for the turf our team played on, if one does the math. But no one ever does. Not in dollars, and not in human terms.

And we cannot explain to most people, with any credence, why there is a financial shortage for books, materials and teachers. I’m told it is a complication of State funding… If that is the case, we need to tell our Representatives that the trophies have piled up, but we have not made a dent in the ignorance and poverty that erodes our society.

And now that the black population is in numerical decline, an even tougher challenge is taking over our focus.

I do not blame our devoted educators, (my wife is one of them!) who are doing the best they can, in my opinion, in a damnable and hopeless situation. If our former, used up athletes are disillusioned, they are no more than our educators, who are rallied every year to use the same losing strategies and declining budgets to raise the rigor for State required tests… only to see their academic assessments plummet when they fail to meet raised standards.

The State seems unaware of the dysfunction. It mandates and funds like a prince in a castle, unaware of what impact its edicts have. The State constantly demands better performance from educators and students, as if the population is constant. The only thing constant is the CHANGE of demographics and the academic ability of the children, who are growingly Hispanic, fresh from Mexico or Central America. Some barely speak any English, and few come from homes that appreciate or understand the gamut of our educational process. Still, more is expected of them than ever before.

It is time for a game change. And it starts in Austin.

Hey, how ‘bout those Rattlers? Next year’s teams look like some State finalists... Yes, you will still see me at the Pit, rooting for our kids... God help them.

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