As a culture, we have a keen focus on celebrity and fame.
Whether it’s a royal wedding, or a Hollywood event, all of us, and I do mean all of us, find a way to pay some sort of attention to the shenanigans that pass as reality for the quotient that comprises the beautiful 1%.
Digging a bit deeper, we hype athletics, and confer hope and glory on the shoulders of children, anticipating not as much great things from them, but great trinkets.
Just look at how we discuss the latest HS basketball phenom from the streets, the newest tennis phenom from a fancy academy, or even the biggest kid with the broadest smile behind his football helmet and pads (Parade Magazine, anyone?).
These kids are featured on the front pages, get face time with their role models at dinners and events in resort locations, and of course are flooded with clothes and gear and travel, more than they could ever use before it goes out of fashion.
Even ESPNU, the proto-college network sportscast, now regularly covers HS contests, presenting games at tournaments created exclusively to mirror the world these youngsters aspire to reach once they pass out of high school.
To some extent, this practice has gone on for years. Major League Baseball celebrates the youth of stars from years past, with the name Joe Nuxhall remaining an answer to one trivia question. The National Hockey League for years relied upon a feeder system from the Canadian Junior leagues that literally required 14 year old boys to farm themselves out across that vast country, all for a chance at some seasonal glory.
And of course there’s gymnastics, which has taken the word youth and turned it into a distant term, with many of the girls who succeed on the world stage in this sport, particularly those from China, still years away from understanding the word puberty.
But this ramped up diatribe is less an effort to remind us that while we put great faith in false gods via our idolatry of youth sports, there remain other ways for gifted and talented children, and even the 99% who are not exceptional, to make their way in the world.
Those other ways involve the point of school……and that’s education.
Education is recognized world over as the great equalizer. It provides us all, as a society, with benefits far greater than what each individual gains from their classes. It’s more than knowledge simply being good, or with learning for learning’s sake. And even with bumps in the road, from the politics of secondary education here in the U.S. on to the cost of post-secondary education, we all come to benefit when someone goes off to college, and works to pursue their studies.
Education, mostly now meaning college, has come to mean opportunity. This language stands behind advertising campaigns, and is recognized by families, whether they’re first generation immigrants, or can document ancestors on the Mayflower.
I was reminded of this following word that a local high school senior has been offered a trip to Abu Dhabi to visit the campus maintained by NYU in that mideast emirate.
This student, an exceptionally gifted boy with an incredibly prodigious mind, as well as the spirit of a provocateur, flies well beneath the radar screens of those who keep tabs on high school stars. He doesn’t have a jump shot, or a 140 mph serve, 4.5 40 time, let alone a 40 inch vertical leap, or a rocket for an arm.
What this student has is a desire to succeed at a life defined by thinking and learning, by fun and play, and by engaging in challenging activities.
And fortunately for him, at least one institution has recognized this, and is reaching out to him as he begins his journey, one that will hopefully take him to actual palaces, and real courts, and center stages.
It is more than an irony that for all, athletic skills fade fare before the mind. It is unfortunate that for many, this is not seen as ironic, but as criticism. Let’s not criticize. Let’s embrace, and let’s inspire our kids towards the ideal of the student, and the student-athlete.
There’s probably not much room for national television cameras in this ideal, but we have to start somewhere. Perhaps a remarkable and whip smart 17 year old from Washington with a name much bigger than his frame will take advantage of his attributes, and lead a effort for rationality and the de-regimentation of youth sports.
Perhaps. But first the kid has to navigate those flights, and take those first steps. Outside of the glare of local, regional, or national cameras. Well, maybe just self posted junk on youtube, for now.