The Whole Nine Yards
by Will Fitzhugh, June 2001
Now that the Massachusetts Teachers Association has spent $600,000 to lobby for the elimination of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, because it tends to interfere with students who want to daydream in class, it is perhaps time to rethink some of our more restrictive athletic rules and policies in schools.
One example that comes immediately to mind is the rule in tackle football that a team must cover at least ten yards before being granted what is called "A First Down."
Clearly, this policy is not only discriminatory against whole teams and also individual players who have difficulty traveling ten yards, especially when the other team is doing everything in its power to make that task as difficult as possible, but also individual players who "carry the ball" have been known to suffer bouts of anger, stress, frustration and depression when they are unable to "move the ball" that distance in only four, or often in only three, attempts.
What happens to the creativity, imagination, and dreams (to echo the MTA television ads) of those players, particularly at the high school level, when they must confront, at so young an age, the difficulties of accomplishing this unreasonable goal mandated by the rigid old rules of the sport?
It seems clear that organizations which have labored so long and hard to fight the minimal academic requirements of the MCAS in Massachusetts, such as FairTest, the MTA, and the like, could afford to give a few moments' attention to the psychological difficulties of these young students who are being held to such "high stakes" standards. After all, the inability to make enough "first downs" can lead to the loss of the whole game on any given day, and this depressing failure can ruin a whole season if it is repeated week after week.
If the solutions proposed to dumb down academic assessment exams could only be borrowed and applied to football, many of these problems could be quite easily resolved. With a little fun and creativity and dreaming put to work, the requirement for a "first down" could be changed from ten yards, a clearly arbitrary objective standard, to, for example, nine yards! In this way, a team which, for whatever reason, could not quite accomplish the ten-yard requirement, would be awarded a "first down" after nine yards, and have the same self-esteem and feeling of accomplishment that used to be limited to those teams which could cover ten yards!
When the effectiveness of this approach has been demonstrated, other dreamy and innovative creative ideas could be applied with equal imagination to other ways in which sports now make success difficult.
For one example, why should school teams each be awarded six points for a touchdown in football, when these young teams are made up of so many diverse individuals, each with different family and income situations? Taking into account some of these economic and psychological factors, it should be fairly easy for the disadvantaged team, [criteria to be developed] to be awarded seven points for a touchdown, while the team with the better athletes would be given five points for a touchdown, thus making it more possible to achieve tie games and success for all, the only true goal for sports as they should be "played."
The possibilities are almost endless, once we get on the right track... The length of the pool could be adjusted for slower swimmers, the distance to be run in track could be adjusted for slower runners, or runners with less endurance. Poor batters could be allowed four or five "strikes," and weak or lazy shot-putters and long jumpers could be offered unlimited chances to step way over the foul line.
Perhaps this is enough to give the idea. Widespread mediocrity is easy enough to achieve, if we just apply our true creativity....