Richmond County schools should emphasize academics, not athletics

After reading the Nov. 20 Augusta Chronicle article "Middle school athletics failing," I feel that, as a former educator for the Richmond County Board of Education, I should respond.

It's my belief that the Richmond County school system is divided into two distinct categories. There are the true scholastic and academically oriented schools, and there are the athletic schools. Of course, it's no secret that this school system seems to place great emphasis on school athletic success in comparison to academic success.

THIS SCHOOL system's athletic programs appears to overshadow academic school programs at the majority of middle and high schools in the county. And it's a fact that the athletic schools are the schools that have the majority of students of color. What is wrong with this picture? It's easy to identify the athletic schools because these schools are only spotlighted for athletic success, and never for positive academic accomplishments.

Of course, this scenario reminds me of what occurred on slave plantations in the antebellum South. People of color were considered by their slave masters to be only physically strong and athletic to perform hard labor on the plantation. But they were considered to be incapable of performing chores that required them to use their intelligence and think logically. Am I to assume that our urban public schools have become modern-day plantations to exploit athletes of color for their physical attributes?

I once attended an education forum with peer educators, level-one school administrators, school principals and board members. A discussion about school athletics vs. school academics arose. There was a general sentiment among the majority of people present that there should always be a balance between athletics and academics within the system. I told them they were deluding themselves. Anyone with an ounce of intelligence knows that academics must always be the No. 1 priority and mission for any public or private educational institution in America. Isn't this the reason why schools were created?

IF SCHOOLS aren't competently educating students, then these educational institutions are failing the high educational expectations that are promoted by our American society.

It was proposed in the newspaper article that middle-school athletes should be evaluated twice a week to see how they are performing academically. This would be unfair to the nonathlete student body. Shouldn't all of the pupils be evaluated twice weekly to make sure that everyone is making solid academic progress, and not just athletes? Showing favoritism to athletes and ignoring other members of the school population is a twisted concept. I cannot accept this idea because it's absolutely wrong.

Since the Richmond County school system enrollment is composed of about 72 percent of pupils of color, I'm annoyed by the fact that academics must take a back seat to athletics for these children. Have our urban public schools become slave plantations to promote physical brawn over intelligence? Does this perpetuate the stereotype that pupils of color are natural-born athletes, but lack natural-born intelligence to excel academically?

I'M PROUD that I don't buy into such notions. And it's really sad for school board members, administrators and teachers of color to passively perpetuate these mythical notions by not challenging, and setting high expectations for, these pupils. It's time for everyone to embrace the fact that pupils of color not only are capable of being successful athletes, but capable of leading our nation to high levels of success because of their intelligence, talents and creativity.

(The writer is a former Richmond County public school teacher with 31 years of teaching service. He lives in Augusta.)

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