Coaching Today

Smart Jock – An Objective Look at Today's High School Athlete_MH 

By Joey Walters, Ed.D. 

A few years ago, our organization asked member schools to participate in a survey to compare the performance of students involved in athletics vs. students who were not involved in athletics. Twenty - six schools participated in this study – 24 public schools and two non-public schools. The purpose of the study was to compare the two groups in the following areas: (1) average grade point, (2) participation in AP curriculum, (3) attendance, (4) discipline, (5) graduation rate, (6) academic scholarships and (7) number of dropouts. 

The data was collected using information from the Arkansas Public School Computer Network (APSCN) and archival sources. The total number of students studied was 24,061 (17,709 non-athletes and 6,342 athletes). The total number of seniors studied was 5,213 (3,954 senior non-athletes and 1,259 senior athletes).  The results for each of the seven categories are shown below: 

 Smart Jock Chart 

The numbers in this survey indicate that student-athletes were higher achievers in the classroom than non-athletes, more likely to take challenging courses and less likely to be absent or in trouble. The results in this study further show that athletes were more likely to finish school and be rewarded with a higher percentage of academic scholarships. 

Dick Johnson, a former Arkansas school administrator and athletic director, was instrumental in conducting the survey. When asked to comment on the survey he said, “America is the only country on earth that recognizes the essential value of athletics and extracurricular activities to education and the advancement of our culture in a very competitive world.  The survey sought to substantiate that value.” 

Whether or not to provide funding for athletics is often debated. This past year in our state, 22 school districts were audited in regard to their athletic expenditures for the previous school year. The expense categories taken into consideration were: salaries, benefits, purchased services, supplies/materials, property, maintenance, travel and other (construction was not included). For the 22 school districts audited, the average athletic cost as a percentage of total district expenditures was 3.43 percent, and the average athletic cost per student (ADM – average daily membership) was $264. 

After looking at these results, a fair question might be, “Would it be worth spending $264 per student if you could get higher GPAs, more participation in more rigorous courses, less absences, less discipline referrals, higher graduation rates, more academic scholarships and dramatically fewer drop-outs?” Without a doubt, the answer would be a resounding “YES.”  

About the Author: Joey Walters, Ed.D., is deputy executive director of the Arkansas Activities Association and a member of the NFHS Coaches Publications Committee.



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