For several years, Charleston County School District officials have discussed adding sports programs at middle schools. The idea has merits, but it doesn’t go far enough.
Introducing football, basketball, volleyball and softball teams in middle schools would certainly lend a sense of community to students. It would let high school coaches observe the middle school development of young athletes who might one day play for them. And it would give students who participate in those sports programs much-needed exercise.
But it isn’t just talented athletes in middle school who could benefit from more exercise. All students would.
There is no state law requiring physical education for middle schoolers. High schoolers are required to take only one class of PE. And yet the state’s child-obesity rate is near epidemic proportions.
The oversight in the law should not deter school districts from focusing on middle school fitness.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, 15 percent of adolescents were overweight (between the 85th and 95th percentiles for Body Mass Index) in 2010; 16.7 percent were obese (BMI greater than 95th percentile). Only 17.1 percent achieved the recommended level of physical activity (at least 60 minutes per day); 39.7 percent watched television three or more hours on an average school day.
Children who form good exercise habits in middle school would likely have better habits in high school, too.
If the district should find a way to establish sports teams for middle schoolers, it should also find a way to establish exercise classes that all the other students would be expected to take, just as they take history and math.
Obese children often have increased health and social problems. Exercise and improved nutrition are the most obvious ways to reduce obesity.
Academic leaders’ anxiety about having enough classroom time for students is understandable.
But studies have concluded that students perform better academically if they have some exercise.
Indeed, studies have shown that even when their academic class time is abbreviated to allow for physical activities, students often improve their classroom performances.
And what children would not benefit from learning first-hand about teamwork, cooperation and sportsmanship?
As always, the Charleston County School District will have to consider the expense of adding sports to middle schools. A rough estimate is that it would cost up to $1.5 million.
However, the Dorchester 2 School District started a middle school sports program about five years ago. The cost to the district is mostly covered by admission fees to sporting events.
But the health, social and academic costs of children not getting enough exercise transcends financial measure.