Although parents are supposed to guide their children through life, it is often the children who reveal layers of life’s meanings to their parents. My own two boys are doing that in spades in their high school years. One boy is completely absorbed in music, the other is a member of the Hand High football team.
As an architect who has spent his life in the arts it may surprise some that the value of athletics in education is something I truly believe in, having experienced them myself about a thousand years ago playing center and middle linebacker in upstate New York, and coaching at Branford High School in the previous century.
Even though I’ve let my son know that the brutality and tribal aspects which are unique to football are part of a greater picture of selfless devotion and extreme commitment that are necessary for any team to perform well, he only understands the reality of these ironies participating in the grinding 20 hours a week he dedicates to the sport.
In a parallel universe my other son plays for perhaps the finest youth orchestra in the state, the Greater New Haven Youth Symphony Orchestra, has been “All State” as a horn player, performs in ensembles at his two music schools, as well as for Choate and Hand as requested. His grinding 30 hours a week of focused performance is directly equivalent to his brother’s experience, and the growth derived from challenge is obvious.
My sons’ twin worlds of athletic and orchestral achievement reveal a different attitude for a culture that often offers to its young sports and arts activity participants a “we are all winners” ethos of inclusion and acceptance. Clearly every individual has merit, but clearly not all teams, orchestras, or given set of individuals triumph in their efforts.
It is easy to simply dismiss athletics, especially football, as crude endeavors having nothing to do with the subtle sensibilities on an educated life. It’s also easy to dismiss elite musical performance as the inaccessible intellectual playpen of the pretentious. Both these attitudes belie the reality that when adults dedicate their heart and soul to inspiring teenagers to do more than they thought they were capable of the education imparted goes well beyond the book learning that occurs during the morning and early afternoon hours at Hand High School.
We who sit in the audience only see the tip of an iceberg of effort, commitment, and time that these groups invest just getting onto the playing field or into the performance hall. So as you feel your pride swell for your hometown football team’s extraordinary season or witness its children performing exquisite music, theater or any other performing art, realize that arts and athletics fruitfully coexist and the value of their efforts is deeper than their “on stage” performances.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.