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Port: What's more important, classroom time or football practice?

How can we support keeping kids out of classrooms because of the pandemic even as we have some of them tackling each other five days a week on the football field?

Hatton Northwood Park River c.jpg
Hatton-Northwood running back Teddy Peterick (21) rushes for yardage between Park River Area defenders Brady Omdahl (55), Kaleb Hodney (diving at left) and Logan Wieler (diving at right) during a high school football game Friday in Hatton. (Korrie Wenzel/Grand Forks Herald)
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MINOT, N.D. — It's no secret that I'm skeptical of the social value of scholastic sports, at both the K-12 and collegiate levels. I think they are an unnecessary distraction from the academic missions of the institutions that host them.

The defenders of these sports programs — without a doubt a passionate majority judging by the amount of abuse I take when I write about this subject — insist that it teaches important life lessons about discipline and leadership.

It's popular mythology, and maybe even true in some instances, though I would argue that for many, scholastic sports are an ugly enterprise, caught up in problems ranging from the politics of playing time to obscene behavior from parents.

A recent survey of high school coaches found 60% of coaches said they’ve had to talk to parents about their behavior. Some 58% said they’ve thought about quitting over it.

Many of them are getting fed up and quitting. The National Federation of State High School Associations says 80% of high school sports officials quit before their third year on the job, and it isn't because of all the important life lessons the kids are learning.


Unless we believe those lessons have to do with getting drunk in the stands and irate over the officiating and/or coaching of a game that has no real bearing on anything important in society.

But when I wrote my weekend print column about school sports during the pandemic, these larger problems weren't necessarily what I was thinking about.

"My high schoolers are only allowed to go to school 2 days a week and do distance learning at home the other 3 days," a reader from the Jamestown area wrote me recently.

The high school football team, she noted, will practice five days a week.

Are you comfortable with those priorities?

I'm not.

If you are, you shouldn't be. How can we support keeping kids out of classrooms because of the pandemic even as we have some of them tackling each other five days a week on the football field?

Can competitive scholastic sports be an important part of the growth and development of a student?



I'm dubious.

Whatever your opinion, sports, and whatever "life lessons" they offer, will never be as important as math or language arts or any of the other academic subjects that are taught in classrooms.

We should all agree on that, right?

And yet, what the pandemic has exposed is that many, including some educators, seem to think that sports are more important than classroom time.

In school districts around the state, coaches will convene players on courts and fields at intervals far more regular than those students will be in classrooms.

That's not right.

That's not acceptable.


We need better priorities in our society when it comes to scholastic sports, but that's a debate for another day. In the here and now, during this pandemic which presents manifest challenges for educators, we need sports to take a back seat to academics.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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