About a year ago I was on my last leg of covering high school basketball in Chattanooga, Tennessee. My beat was a good one, but mostly because the other writers weren’t fond of covering games in the hood. Lucky me, because that’s where a lot of the best basketball in the city was being played.
At any rate, my most frequent coverage was at a school called Howard School. Make no mistake, this was an underperforming academic school with a ton of raw talent. But as you could probably guess, most of the kids either refused to be coached, didn’t have a coach who could control them, or simply listened too much to their uncles who sat in the front row and told them to “just drive.”
If it sounds like a classic case of “they really need Samuel L. Jackson to come in there, relate to the boys, and take them to state,” you’re right. It was exactly like that.
It’s frustrating watching a team of pure athletes so easily go 18-6 (some games they just didn’t try), and then make a b-line straight to a state tournament blowout because no one in the state could keep up with them on the floor. It’s frustrating because it could be so much more, and there was so little evidence of personal growth, maturation, or even a semblance of well-roundedness.
That wouldn’t be a problem if, say, the boys scored well on their ACT’s and made decent enough grades to get accepted into a DII or even low level DI school, but not a single one of these kids are getting those offers. Why? Underperformance in the academic realm. We’re talking about sub 2, and in some cases sub 1 GPA’s. We’re talking about the inability to to have a simple conversation with a reporter after a game when being prompted with softball questions. No communications skills, no education, and therefore no more hoops when this run of state titles ends.
Depressed yet? It gets worse. I talked to about a half dozen kids in my final season as a high school reporter who would use phrases like, “when I start playing ball at the next level,” or, “when I get to college and I can showcase on a higher level.” Absolutely no concept of the fact that you cannot get into a school without making grades. Obviously I cannot speak for every student on every underperforming high school basketball team, but there appears to be a pretty sharp ignorance when it comes to things like the realistic future.
And this makes sense, too, because by in large there is not much proof that any of the kids listen to any of the authority in their lives. I’m not just conjecturing here, either. This stems from multiple conversations with their head coach, assistant coaches, and school boosters. These kids could absolutely not care less about anyone’s opinions except “key members” of the crowd (the same guys who smell like alcohol when they show up to the games, and the same guys who tend to get kicked out of rivalry games). They are the alumnus, and they love nothing more than razzing the hell out of the athletes for not being as tough or cool as they were back in the day. What’s worse is their ability to get into each players ear and cause them to ignore their coach, and make horrible basketball decisions on the court.
This is one example but I imagine it’s not unique to Howard School in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Leadership breeds character, and character yields results. Those results might not be a seven figure salary in the NBA, but they most certainly will be better than filling out an application and in the education category writing, “high school diploma, but we won state every year…”
This isn’t new information for most people, and I don’t have a solution for it other than a call to educated, caring men and women to make it more of a priority to stress the importance of education over athletics. Samuel L. Jackson can’t coach every school at once, so more need to step up.