Written by Bob Woelk Wednesday, 09 April 2008 09:52As I compose this column Saturday, the Final Four basketball extravaganza has yet to begin. The front page of the Wichita Eagle carries this announcement: “To bring you results from tonight’s Kansas-North Carolina game, delivery of some Sunday newspapers may be delayed.”
In addition, Saturday’s edition includes a higher-than-usual percentage of coverage of college basketball. There are feature stories, statistics, news from the NCAA tournament site in San Antonio and commentary. In Section A, not a word about casualties in the Iraqi war.
In all fairness, maybe nobody died in that skirmish thousands of miles away in the previous 24 hours. Maybe it was an unusually calm day. But I doubt it. The Final Four is uppermost in the minds of Americans and, in particular, Kansans this April 5.
Understand that I am a fan of the Jayhawks and Coach Bill Self. I think KU is a class act, worthy of the national attention our little corner of the world is receiving these days. I also believe, however, that we as a nation, a state and even a city, have lost our perspective.
Perhaps athletic events are merely a healthy diversion, a chance to leave our day-to-day troubles behind us. This certainly can be a good thing. We have so much to worry about with gas prices approaching $4 a gallon, terrorists lurking around every corner, global warming threatening to melt all the world’s ice, men becoming pregnant; next thing we know, lions will lie down with lambs.
But is this obsession with games really all that healthy?
Historically, when times get tough people have turned to entertainment as an alternative to real life. Movies, dancing, music and sports thrive during difficult periods. We look for anything that will take our minds off our troubles.
But those problems don’t go away; they just disappear for a little while. Nothing gets solved. And, often, issues fester underneath, waiting and growing while our attention is diverted.
A case in point is the growing national deficit. It is always there, like the proverbial elephant in the room, but right now, as the government prepares to send us all checks to stimulate the economy, the interest continues to compound. Eventually, this giant welfare check is going to bounce. We are already overdrawn by billions of dollars.
Now, I don’t mean to be the bearer of bad news. I’m not trying to rain on everyone’s parade, so to speak. But when Wichitans can spend literally hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to travel to Texas to watch a basketball tournament, they shouldn’t grouse about spending the extra $100 a year to help fund a school bond issue. Where’s the sense of perspective?
Every game the Jayhawks play is worth at least $1 million in revenue for the KU athletic department. That’s great. But, what does this do for the average student who happens to pay the highest tuition of the big three state universities?
I understand that the tournament success helps everyone at the college indirectly. More exposure equals more students which equals more revenue. I doubt the price of books will drop. I don’t think anyone will receive a tuition rebate in celebration of the basketball achievement.
At the high school level, sports championships come and go. Signs at Hillsboro’s city limits proclaim the success the Trojans have earned over the years. Nowhere, however, will visitors see billboards touting our academic prowess. Not outside the school buildings, anyway.
High school students have reached the state standard of excellence for two straight years in reading and reached the same high water mark in math this year. The science results are not yet in. HHS students score consistently higher than the state average on the ACT.
Junior April Young last week earned a spot in a national FCCLA competition. Our technology association is one of the best in the state.
The point I am trying to make is not that sports should not have a place of importance in our society. I just think we should keep athletics in perspective and remember to celebrate all our accomplishments, not just the ones that involve throwing, shooting, kicking, passing or bouncing a ball.