Medford school administrators' decision to keep varsity sports going even if teachers walk off the job Thursday reinforces the misguided notion that athletics are more important than other extracurricular activities.
The district initially had announced that all non-academic activities, including sports, would be canceled in the event of a strike. But an outpouring of protest from the community apparently prompted a change of plans.
On Friday, Superintendent Phil Long announced that varsity sports would continue with the help of certified coaches from the community who would fill in for those coaches who are union members and might be on strike.
"Athletics are a vital part of our community, and we're glad to be able to find a way to keep the high school program going in spite of the possibility of a strike," Long said.
That's great — for the high-school athletes who draw crowds for games and compete for titles in their respective sports. Middle-school sports programs, apparently, are a less-vital part of the community. One Mail Tribune reader, in a comment posted on our website, wondered if middle-school parents would be refunded the fees they paid for their children to play. It's a valid question.
Also apparently less than vital to the community, or to the students who participate in them, are music and theater programs — which are, after all, part of the school day, unlike sports. Studies show students who participate in band, orchestra and choir programs perform better in academic subjects than students who don't.
Music and theater programs are vital creative outlets for talented young people and are a big reason why some students keep coming to school.
Certainly, participating in organized sports teaches key lessons: the value of teamwork, the importance of good sportsmanship, the virtue of hard work and practice to develop a skill, the ability to handle the disappointment of defeat as well as the exhilaration of victory. But athletics is not the only activity that fosters student growth and development. A special effort to continue high-school sports and only high-school sports sends an unfortunate message about the relative value of all other student activities.
Music, for one, imparts valuable lessons of its own. Prominent among those is a skill we hope is being employed on both sides of the bargaining table: the ability to listen.