What is the place of athletics in Catholic high schools?
Catholic high schools emphasize education of the "whole person," and try to resist the temptation to let sports drive the agenda or dominate students' lives. This goal, of course, is not always achieved. Some Catholic schools—at the high school and college level—are quite popular precisely because of their sports.
It's a tough balance. Success in sports drives up applications and local interest, and potentially donations, but it can overshadow other programs, potentially marginalizing non-athletes and non-coaches. And yet, sports can foster a work ethic, a spirit of collaboration, and a sense of commitment to a larger community. For young men in particular, sports can be a healthy way to channel aggression and energy and cultivate the loyalty and strength-through-adversity that will make them good husbands and fathers.
A female colleague of mine (when I asked her the impact of sports on girls) told me that sports give young women "a power beyond their looks." It empowers them to embrace a role, she said, different from what our culture and media expect. She said that if you look at a typical girls' magazine, it's all about what women are wearing, who they're dating, and how they apply their makeup. But during games and practices, she said, girls cannot worry about their clothing or social standing. They have to focus on the team as a whole and what they can contribute. In her experience, girls who play sports often develop a maturity and a confidence earlier than some of their peers. (She added that the same qualities can be developed in other activities—like dance, music, or in student leadership groups.)
Athletics programs can be one more vehicle for giving glory to God and reinforcing the habits and virtues that make for selfless leaders. On the other hand, it can also inflate egos and individualism, not to mention cause major injury (at least in football).
How, then, do we think about the role of sports in Catholic education? Knowing of the pros and cons, how should sports at a Catholic high school be different than at a non-Catholic high school?