Non­tra­di­tional sports pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NOT THE NORM SPORTS - RICK FIRES Rick Fires can be reached at or on Twit­ter @NWARick.

I’ve cov­ered hun­dreds of high school sport­ing events through years, but a for­mer player named Kenny stands out.

Kenny does not stand out in my mind be­cause he was a great ath­lete. Just the op­po­site.

Kenny was the backup cen­ter on his bas­ket­ball team and not a very good one at that. Kenny stood about 5-foot-8 and, if he were a trailer, he’d be a dou­ble wide. There was some laugh­ter when­ever Kenny got a chance to play, which was a rare.

Kenny was strong, and I re­mem­ber think­ing he would’ve been bet­ter served on a wrestling team or foot­ball team. The prob­lem was that the small, ru­ral school Kenny at­tended did not have a wrestling or foot­ball team. So, Kenny is likely re­mem­bered as be­ing un­skilled and kind of clown­ish, which is highly un­fair con­sid­er­ing the lim­ited op­por­tu­ni­ties he had in high school sports.

I am con­fi­dent Kenny would be viewed much dif­fer­ently if he were in high school to­day, where there are more op­por­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents who want to be part of a team. They range from the meat-and-potato sports like foot­ball, bas­ket­ball and base­ball to non­tra­di­tional ac­tiv­i­ties like moun­tain bik­ing, archery, bowl­ing and trap shoot­ing. Peo­ple can ar­gue whether ac­tiv­i­ties like trap shoot­ing is a sport or a recre­ation, but we can all agree that pro­vid­ing out­lets to push kids off the couch or to put down their cell­phones is a good thing.

Many are con­vinced that lacrosse will take the same tra­jec­tory as when high school wrestling was first in­tro­duced in Arkansas. I re­mem­ber when there were only a few schools like Gos­nell, Moun­tain Home and the Arkansas School for the Blind that had wrestling teams, and they wres­tled mostly against teams from Mis­souri.

But wrestling grew rapidly in pop­u­lar­ity and was ac­cepted as a sanc­tioned sport by the Arkansas Ac­tiv­i­ties As­so­ci­a­tion in 2008. Over 50 schools now field teams in Arkansas, and ath­letes like for­mer state cham­pion Tyler Mann (Lit­tle Rock Cen­tral/Ok­la­homa State) have earned col­lege schol­ar­ships in wrestling.

In May, Utah be­came the 25th state to ac­cept boys and girls lacrosse teams as a sanc­tioned sport. The North­west Arkansas Lacrosse Club in Ben­tonville is lead­ing the charge here for full mem­ber­ship and the pos­si­bil­ity of a lacrosse player from Arkansas earn­ing a schol­ar­ship to a tra­di­tional power like Duke or Vir­ginia could come sooner than an­tic­i­pated.

While lacrosse might still be a for­eign con­cept for many in Arkansas, powerlifting, rodeo and fish­ing are not. I’ve long as­so­ci­ated powerlifting with foot­ball, but there is a grow­ing chorus in Arkansas that powerlifting should be a sep­a­rate and sanc­tioned sport.

“I would like to see powerlifting added be­cause Texas, Ok­la­homa and Ne­braska (have it), and it’s some­thing for those guys in the off­sea­son to com­pete,” said Alma foot­ball coach Dough Loughridge, whose school hosted a state meet last spring that drew more than 50 teams and 400 par­tic­i­pants. “A lot of the suc­cess­ful teams that win at th­ese meets are some of the ones you see play­ing in late Novem­ber and De­cem­ber.”

Whether it’s a club or sanc­tioned sport, there are ben­e­fits for high school stu­dents to be­come in­volved. The Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of High School As­so­ci­a­tions, the gov­ern­ing body for high school ath­let­ics, cites team­work and co­op­er­a­tion, time man­age­ment, fit­ness, com­mu­nity rep­re­sen­ta­tion, so­cial re­la­tion­ships and, in many cases, im­proved aca­demic per­for­mance.

Be­sides those ben­e­fits, peo­ple have long par­tic­i­pated in sports be­cause they love to com­pete. It’s that sim­ple. So, get off the couch. Put down the cell­phone, and get in­volved.

What­ever your in­ter­est is, there’s likely a team out there wait­ing for you.

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