A few days ago, The Charlotte Observer carried a positive article about Nevaeh Brown, a basketball player who has committed to play basketball for Wake Forest next year. Brown, a 5-8 senior guard at Mallard Creek High School in Charlotte, is known for her accurate shooting and ball-handling skills.
Brown must have a strong character, too. She’s quoted as saying, “I try to be encouraging with my teammates. When you’re encouraging others, there won’t be any problems…. I want to be a leader. I want to help people get to where they need to be. That’s going to be important for me this year.” Those words tell a lot about her. She is an athlete any coach would want on her or his team.
A sub-text of the article is Brown’s migration: Mallard Creek is her third high school in as many years. Last year, she played at Davidson Day and led that school to the state independent school championship.
Three years—three high schools–with basketball being the catalyst for her moves.
Brown’s story isn’t unique. More than a few high school players use athletics to propel their future in the hope that, by moving around, they can develop, be noticed, and get that coveted scholarship. Parents rent or purchase homes so that the next Eli Manning can attend such-and-such school–a school that has a distinguished history and/or a high-profile coach.
As a former coach and administrator, I know the value of athletics. I’ve witnessed how it can change lives. I’m an example. I wrestled in college. It provided an education and a way out from the cotton mill. But the difference in those days was that education came first, athletics second. Sports were a means to an end, not the end.
Today, that’s changed.
I know it’s easy to be critical, but it’s important to face facts, too: three high schools in three years isn’t normal or conventional behavior. Only a flawed system enables such movement. The flaw, of course, is that we’ve let the tail wag the dog: sports come first.
Where are parents? The state high school association? Coaches? School administrators? This wouldn’t happen unless all parties are on the same page. They enable.
The ancient Greeks said, “In nothing too much.” Here we have a story of a child with talent that’s being used by the system. She is told, or at least encouraged, to put everything she has into basketball. Relationships with other students? Being mentored by trusted, even revered teachers? Not really important. It’s all about basketball.
Nevaeh Brown is just one more of many talented children being used by a system that we, adults, have created. Yes, I’m aware of the advantages that athletes, like Brown, gain. But there are many pitfalls, too. That’s why I believe we should heed the words of the Ancients: stress education, then play.
Three years and three high schools? That’s wrong.