Smart Dad, Smart Kid

“The ‘State of Hockey’ is. . . excessive.” Anyone who reads enough to compare cultural values in the Western world is aware that we in the States are not known for our moderation. That was best illustrated by a comment of a lead character in the British espionage series, MI-5. In one episode he commented regarding the chaos in Iraq Middle East that he’d be glad when “the US Military could find no more countries to invade.”

I’ve often been smitten by holding a similar attitude toward the complete lack of any sense of long-term priorities or moderation in the attitudes toward local sports and the public schools, whether grade school or college. So I thought the lead commentary in today’s Star Tribune on the role of hockey in Minnesota was both daring and long overdue. It also elicited a huge guffaw with the final statement.

The extended comment, written by Dale Vaillancourt, a young father from the middle class suburb of Burnsville, paid attention to the fact that Minnesota is a hockey crazy state. He was quick to say that he enjoyed watching “two evenly matched teams battle it out on the ice. If there’s some brutal checking or a fight. . . even better.” Obviously, Vaillancourt is also a sports guru. He just completed his 12th American Birkebeiner so he’s no anti-sports partisan. For the uninitiated, the Birkebeiner is a highly competitive and exhausting cross-country ski marathon.

Really sick  
“But at the youth levels,” he writes, “the ‘State of Hockey’ is a really, really sick state indeed.” With that topic sentence in play, the author details the experiences of his fourth grade son who just wanted to “try hockey!”

As a 4th grader his son was too old to start on one of the regular teams. “Well, if he’s never played before, he’ll have to be on a “C” team. Contacting the “C” team secretary, he found out that 9 and 10-year-olds practice four to five days a week, with supplementary camps and strength and conditioning weekly, as well as two games each week–“some in town and some involving statewide travel.” The sports demands go uphill from there.

But the letter raises a terrifically important issue, not merely for Vaillancourt, but for the nation as a whole. Why have we permitted and encouraged the sports’ machine to take over the academic needs of our kids–and thus, our world? It’s no wonder that we have to import our mathematical and scientific expertise. And it’s no wonder that more than half of the population rejects evolution. And it’s no wonder that schools can’t spend much on developing educated citizens.

One of the very important perspectives that age and our public school systems gave both my wife and I was a far more thoughtful, analytical and responsive attitude toward both citizenship and education. Having graduated from two of the very best public school systems in the nation in the late ‘forties and early ‘fifties, we look upon today’s school sports with no glassy eyes. We went to schools where science, literature, math and civics were very front and center. Both school systems fielded sports teams that competed and often won with the best in the state of Michigan. But in our schools and state, sports was not the the be-all, end-all it is in most states today. It competed with the arts of drama and painting, and music programs in choir, band and orchestra. Certainly age may color our memories–but not that much.

So I was very amused by the closing paragraph of Vaillancourt’s thoughtful response to Minnesota hockey.

That evening, I sat down with my son and explained the level of commitment and time required to “try hockey.”

His response was: “Ha! I’m not doing that! When would I ski or do Scout stuff or homework? Forget it — most of those hockey guys are jerks anyway.”

Then it dawned on me: We don’t have to spend any time with those people. We’re prima-donna-free!

Smart dad. Really smart kid!

Flickr photo: Spike’s shoes


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