Children, athletics focus of faculty panel discussion

By Nick LaRosa
March 14, 2012

Five Cabrini faculty members touched on the history of organized sport, the values young children and collegiate athletes can take away from the games they play and the importance of balancing school work and athletics during the “Children and Sport” panel discussion held in the Mansion on Tuesday, Feb. 28.

With children and sports being so interconnected, Dr. Joseph Romano, professor of philosophy, began the discussion with a lighthearted-story titled “Sixth Avenue Wildcats,” a tale that revolved around high school students’ love for America’s pastime of baseball. When the story concluded, Romano’s message was clear: sports need to be about fun.

“They never seemed to care if they lost the game but don’t kid yourself, they had fun,” Romano said. “Don’t ever doubt that they took their game seriously. They were internalizing values that their parents had only presented to them externally. They were kids with a purpose and were having fun.”

Played recreationally or as a part of a team, sports can always be tied to a number of core values and the skills children adopt can go far beyond the playing field. According to Vonya Womack, assistant professor of business administration, sports can help children achieve goals, work hard and build confidence, all attributes that she has seen her four children take away from organized athletics.

“In regards to what they feel they’ve been able to take away from this, learning to have success with grace and failure with dignity,” Womack said. “They know how to win and they know how to lose and they’ve had to learn that over time.”

Womack feels that while she was the one who helped her children become involved in sports, they ultimately are the judges of whether or not they feel successful.

“As I look at their practice schedules and what they do, did I necessarily choose that for my children? I don’t really know, because I always wanted them to feel successful and when they felt successful doing those things I encouraged it,” Womack said. “But I also have always encouraged them that if they don’t to do that, then they could simply choose no.”

Saying “no” often goes beyond simply choosing between football and baseball. The temptation to take steroids and performance-enhancing drugs is there for collegiate athletes, even at the Division III level, according to Dr. David Dunbar, associate professor of biology.

For Dunbar, a former student-athlete who played football for Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pa., football was “a drug in its own right.” However, the game also helped him succeed both on and off the field while dealing with the temptation to take steroids.

“Football gave me structure and gave me something to look forward to and to shoot for,” Dunbar said. “It was very tempting to take enhancement drugs. I never did but I knew a lot of friends that did.”

Moving away from the temptations that some athletes face, Courtney Smith, assistant professor of history and political science, reflected on the history of sport and how sports can help athletes build character. Sports can help student-athletes gain skills for their future careers as well.

“The people running colleges thought that athletics would take these young boys and mold them into adults that could be leaders in the fields of businesses and technology, growing fields that were going to make America a world power,” Smith said.

At the forefront of this debate, of course, are the children, those who are actually playing the game. While coaches and parents have become heavily involved, the athletes themselves are the ones who will be vying for playing time, college scholarships and even pro tryouts. However, the odds of a career as an athlete developing is microscopic, according to Dr. Tony Verde, associate professor of exercise science and health promotion.

“It’s ironic that there are a set of parameters that if you meet and you can do all of these different things, you probably can’t compete at the highest level of sports,” Verde said. “Unfortunately, very few are ever going to make a living at any sport. It’s a very blessed genetic group of people.”

With the odds of going pro in a particular sport being extremely rare, Verde advises parents and teams to remind their children to enjoy their sports as games, something that he also tells his son, a golfer at a Division I school. As Womack also attested to, children and student-athletes need to find a reason to play sports other than to simply win. There need to be values that can be carried over from the playing field to the office down the line.

“If you can keep it balanced and you can keep it all together, it’s great to have a four-year career and play at the college level and have the excitement of winning and everything,” Verde said. “As long as you don’t forget that you’ve got to go to school, because that’s where you’re going to get your employment afterwards.”

With many past and present Cavalier student-athletes in attendance, Womack concluded her speech with advice for those who may one day have children involved in organized sports.

“As you get older and you decide to have families and you decide to have your kids play in sports, always remember what it is that you want them to gain out of it,” Womack said.

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Nick LaRosa

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