Play ball

Cutting budgets for school sports can hurt even kids who don't play sports, says Francis Wilkinson in this edition of The Week's Editor's Letter

With states and the feds all looking for budget savings, the fiscal squeeze is manifest in some unexpected corners. Last week the University of California at Berkeley terminated its baseball team, which the school had been fielding for more than a century. Some high schools are reportedly facing similarly brutal cuts to athletic programs.

Girls' and women's sports are protected from bearing the brunt of such cuts by Title IX, the federal law requiring gender equity in sports programs. Research suggests a link between engagement in sports and self-esteem, which is just one reason why I always wanted my daughter to play tennis or basketball or... anything. But my efforts to get her to join me on a ball field invariably elicited a terse "No thanks." She had started dancing at 3, and by 10 was doing it intensively at a renowned school. Almost 13 now, she’s thrilling to watch, but dance is not the sum of her days or dreams. One night last spring, I got home from work and she asked if I would pitch to her. Dark as it was, I happily complied. She'd been playing baseball in gym class and had taken a liking to it. Virtually every night over the succeeding weeks, I’d pitch a Wiffle ball and she’d swat it into the twilight. Then, just as suddenly, lacrosse mania swept through our house. Thanks to school, she's been able to ease her way into the sporting life in her own time, on her own terms. We’re lucky that local taxpayers have indulged her. But it seems she’s ready at last to play ball. Lacrosse tryouts are next month.

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Francis Wilkinson is executive editor of The Week.