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Volume 21 No. 2
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Influence of high school sports goes overlooked

Peter Fitzpatrick of Home Team Marketing, a company whose focus is on high school sports, published a provocative letter in SportsBusiness Journal on Jan. 23. His letter generally commended SBJ for its selection of the 50 most influential people in sports business, but took exception to the absence of anyone connected to the world of high school sports. As a man with four decades of experience in the field, I believe that Mr. Fitzpatrick has raised an interesting point.

When one considers the collective reach of high school sports, no one can match our numbers. Nor can anyone match the importance of the outcomes we engender. Our country’s leaders in government, industry, medicine and education have had their characters formed, to an extraordinary degree, by their high school sports experiences. For example, President Obama often cites his basketball efforts at Punahou High School in Hawaii, and House Speaker John Boehner makes equal note of his football days at Cincinnati’s Moeller High School.

The macro numbers are striking. Over 19,000 high schools provide nearly 8 million young people opportunities to play high school sports. More people attend high school sporting events than college and professional sports events combined. The growth of Web streaming will widen the gap. Yet the business media, including SBJ, largely pass on high schools. At a time when budget cuts threaten the existence of many school sports programs, business leaders should recognize the key role of high school sports in developing the next generation of employees and entrepreneurs, not to mention the current generation of consumers.

Studies consistently show students who participate in high school sports make better grades, have better attendance and fewer discipline referrals, and graduate at a higher rate than students who do not participate. Supporting the young people who participate in high school sports will keep the doors open to these programs and help us build the leaders of tomorrow.

None of the people who lead high school sports programs would claim to rank in the top 50 most influential people in sports business. However, the collective role of such leaders has an enormous influence on the nation’s future.

Robert B. Gardner

Gardner is executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations.