The Sports Less Traveled 

While high school football will always rule Friday nights in Texas, increasing numbers of young people are seeking to participate in sports that traditionally have not been a part of the high school experience–and an increasing number of school districts are attempting to accommodate these wishes.

Schools across the state, and across the country, are offering sports that haven’t been available in the past. Lacrosse, field hockey, ice hockey, water polo, fencing, and badminton are just a few of the many possibilities.

Debakey High in Houston has a gymnastics team, while Lamar boasts teams for field hockey, water polo, and lacrosse. The athletic departments at Houston high schools, and high schools in every other state, are radically different than they were even a decade ago when districts still funneled copious funds into their football programs. Administrators, coaches, parents, and students all feel that embracing other, less established sports is a move in the right direction.

John Gillis, an assistant director with the National Federation of State High School Associations says of the trend, “Inclusion is what we’re all about–it is providing opportunities for everybody.”

Why the Break from Tradition?

The big three sports–football, baseball, and basketball–have dominated high school sports for years. The players are often hailed as high-school royalty, and only a small percentage of students are able to participate. By introducing other sports into the schools, kids who would normally be on the sidelines can be recognized for their achievements and abilities as well. They are excelling at skateboarding, skiing, fencing, and more. Why shouldn’t they be recognized for their own accomplishments?

Non-traditional sports may encourage a higher percentage of students to be involved in athletics. Participation in extracurricular activities helps to create students who become well-rounded adults. It also helps them to develop a sense of belonging to something and working within a team. With more teens dealing with feelings of isolation and depression than ever before that sense of being part of something is essential.

Families are more mobile, relocating more, and there is more moving from state to state. Sports that were once only popular in a certain region are being introduced across the nation by this movement. A student who has been on the lacrosse team in New York will want the same opportunities to play if his family moves to Texas, where that sport is less well known. A good example of this can be seen with ice hockey. Schools in Texas just didn’t offer ice hockey in the 1970s, but during the 1980s many families from the Northeast moved here, bringing a passion for hockey with them. Now most cities, as well as many schools, have ice hockey teams.

Students who compete in BMX races or motocross outside of school hours want to get credit for their efforts, too. School districts must change the vision for their athletics department in order to stay current and to provide as many opportunities for students as possible. Not all students have the same physical abilities. A small student may not be able to play football but he may excel at downhill skiing or an equestrian event. A student who is wheelchair bound can’t play a normal game of basketball but can excel at wheelchair basketball. It’s a matter of making sports available to everyone who wants to participate.

What Are the Possibilities in the Houston Area?

Students are requesting new sports be added to their high school athletics department on a regular basis. Hawaii offers high school championships in judo and canoe paddling. Georgia has a state championship in rifle. High school athletic departments are being redefined across the nation.

What can you find in Houston?

  • Clear Lake offers swimming, diving, water polo, and golf.
  • Cypress Creek High School offers swimming, water polo, dance, and wrestling.
  • The Kinkaid School offers lacrosse, field hockey, and golf as well as more traditional sports programs.
  • Houston High School offers golf and powerlifting as part of their athletics program.
  • Memorial High School offers field hockey, golf, lacrosse, and rugby.
  • Stratford High offers lacrosse, swimming, and volleyball.
  • Westside High School offers lacrosse, golf, water polo, and both boys and girls wrestling teams.

This is, by no means, a complete listing of the sports available in Houston-area schools. Check with your child’s school, or schools you are considering, to get a list of what is available.

Keep in mind that many of these sports began in the schools as a result of students’ and parents’ asking for them. If your child enjoys a particular sport, you may want to discuss adding it to your school’s athletic schedule. If enough students show an interest administrators may choose to add it to the athletic program.

Schools Must Encourage a Balance

There is on disturbing pattern in all of this. Many of the schools for gifted students and those focusing on math and science have fewer available sports activities than the other high schools. Some don’t offer sports at all. For decades there were Texas high schools that focused on sports, and football in particular, while allowing academics to take a secondary role. It seems that the pendulum may have swung the opposite direction. Where the focus is now on strong academics, some schools have sports tacked on to the curriculum without much thought. There should not be a gulf between athletics and academics. Opportunities to be involved with lesser known sports may be the key to piquing these students’ interests in physical activities.

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