Eve Pearlman: Pay now or pay later
It is a Monday afternoon in late October, and I am at one of what seems like dozens of soccer fields at Alameda Point. During the hour and a half while my son and 80 or so other young athletes play, I amble about on the sidelines, threading my way through ubiquitous goose poop, eavesdropping on other parents’ chatter.
I listen to moms and dads discuss the details of their children’s growth, the teams they’ve played for, what their kids are good at, what they need to work on, what opportunities there are in the region to develop their child’s skills, whether they play futsal or indoor during the winter.
And I know we’re not supposed to talk about social class in the USA, I know we’re supposed to pretend it doesn’t exist. But it’s safe to say that all the parents out here are educated parents of means. Means enough to spare a car and a parent and an afternoon once a week for 10 weeks to shuttle across the East Bay – because Moraga and Montclair and Piedmont are represented – and let their children play in this skills clinic.
Back when I was a kid, when I walked to school in the snow uphill both ways, public schools had sports programs that were available to all children. The Alameda Recreation and Park Department, I’m told, used to host no-fee leagues for all the town’s youth. Now around town the rule is pay to play.
Children who don’t have access to such activities should not be ignored. Middle school sports were cut entirely from AUSD a few years ago, and now a few teams are back, funded and organized by the Alameda Education Foundation. AUSD elementary school students get an hour of teacher-taught physical education each week; AUSD elementary school gym teachers shuttle back and forth between the schools they serve – educating 800 or so children a week.
For some, that little pocket of exercise counts as their only physical education.
Here at Alameda Point, the children are practicing their moves: a quick step, a side tap on the ball, and a burst of speed in another direction. “Everyone gets better with practice,” a coach friend of mine told me the other day. He’s coached his daughter’s team for several seasons now. All the girls on his team have improved tremendously, he says – even girls who came in with little interest or inclination have, season after season, advanced, become more skillful with their feet, better able to find their place on the field – and to play with greater confidence and lung capacity as well.
A gaggle of geese lands over at the far end of the green, far from where the children shout and run. The sun has almost set and the portable lights have powered on. I watch the boys and girls ages six, seven and eight move about. It’s kind of beautiful, their energy and hard work, the glow of the lights, the fresh air off the Bay.
Near me, a man’s toddler runs in circles around him. Both father and son are laughing. “I wish I had his energy,” he says. “Me, too,” I say.
Practice matters, the opportunity to practice matters, a chance to learn and grow matters. As sports programs are cut from cities and schools, and what is available becomes more and more determined by how much money and time and access to transportation parents have, fewer kids will to be offered these sorts of opportunities to excel.
And then what do they do? What do those kids do?
I don’t think a review of the headlines is necessary. Young people are doing stupid, life-wrecking things. It’s an ongoing barrage of bad news.
When we cut budgets and cut programs for youth, we’re taking away a chance for children and teens to find something that matters, to channel all that natural competitiveness and energy into something satisfying and meaningful.
But today at Alameda Point, with all the kids learning, the bright lights, the crisp air, the anticipation of a warm dinner, a warm shower, a warm bed. Well-exercised children, snuggling up to sleep, well-fed, and it’s kind of dreamy, actually.
Every child should have this sort of opportunity.
Note: Eve Pearlman served on the board of the Alameda Education Foundation, which is mentioned in the above piece, in 2007 and 2008. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.