Sideline Slants

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
Are you in touch with America’s youth when it comes to sports? Just in case that question keeps you up late at night, feel free to check your opinions with those who are barely old enough to drive.

Stamats, a marketing and communications company that works with more than 100 colleges and universities nationwide, conducted a Web survey of 1,431 college-bound high school sophomores, juniors and seniors and asked them to respond to several sports-related questions: What is your favorite sport? What is your favorite sports team? Who is your favorite athlete?

Perhaps the survey results would have been different if the teens had responded after the Winter Olympics, but don’t hold your breath. It will be a long time before curling is ranked as a favorite sport, although there are undoubtedly parents who would like to see their sons and daughters learn how to use a broom.

According to the survey of high school students, the most popular sport for the second consecutive year is (drum roll, please) basketball.

Although basketball is No. 1, its popularity slipped slightly from 21.9 percent to 19.8 percent.

Basketball is followed in the rankings by (2) soccer (a very distant second), (3) football, (4) volleyball, (5) baseball, (6) (tie) track/cross country and swimming, (8) softball, (9) tennis and (10) golf.

Comment: The fact that basketball is ranked first should restore your faith in the youth of America. At the same time, I’m not sure why football fell in popularity. Maybe some of the survey takers were wannabe football players cut from a team. Maybe nonviolence is becoming more acceptable.

I’ve never totally understood why soccer is so popular for kids to play in America, but then fails as a spectator sport. Perhaps American fans find it hard to get excited about 2-1 and 1-0 scores. Soccer seemed to take an upward spike during the World Cup a few years ago, but its staying power has not been good.

Let’s move on. I don’t wish any ill will toward volleyball fans, but tell me that baseball doesn’t have a problem when volleyball is considered more popular.

I’m mildly surprised that car racing, wrestling and figure skating didn’t make the list, especially professional wrestling. Oops. My fault.

Professional wrestling and figure skating would be on another list-most popular soap operas.

When it comes to favorite sports teams, the teens picked professional teams. The Los Angeles Lakers were an overwhelming pick for No. 1, with 15.2 percent. The New York Yankees were next with 7.9 percent, followed by (3) Dallas Cowboys, (4) Atlanta Braves, (5) Philadelphia 76ers, (6) Green Bay Packers, (7) Chicago Bulls, (8) Chicago Cubs and (9) San Francisco 49ers.

Comment: Is anyone surprised that teens like front-runners? Maybe it’s because they take after their parents.

It seems somewhat contradictory that so many teens picked the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bulls and Chicago Cubs. It has been awhile since those teams have won a championship. Maybe there’s a little Charlie Brown syndrome in teens, pulling for the underdog, i.e. the Cubs.

Is it any surprise that Michael Jordan was the favorite athlete of teens in 2001 and 2000? He received 13.4 percent of the vote in 2001.

That’s only 0.4 better than Allen Iverson, who finished second. Following in third was Kobe Bryant, (4) Mia Hamm, (5) Shaquille O’Neal, (6) Alex Rodriguez, (7) Ken Griffey Jr. and (8) Brett Favre.

Comment: If nothing else, it’s logical that teens picked so many basketball players as their favorite athletes when they picked basketball as their favorite sport. Michael-mania is alive and well.

The fact that Mia Hamm is the lone female representative on the list shows that a gender gap exists in the popularity and recognition of athletes.

So what does this survey tell us about teens? For better or worse, whether they admit it or not, they are a lot like the rest of us “old” folks.

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