The Jones Lady Longhorns have secured another gold ball. (Why do we use “Lady” in that description? We don’t say “Gentlemen Longhorns”. Aren’t we all Longhorns? We have a Girls team and a Boys team, but both are proud Longhorns. Just a thought.) This program is on the cusp of unanimous dynasty status. There’s a strong argument to support that’s what we’re seeing. Jones is on a significant run of success in many arenas, but athletics is the most prominent. From the creation of the Jones school district until 2008, we had one state championship and one runner-up. In the last 12 years, we have five state championships in four different sports and in both girls and boys.

It has me thinking about the value of extra-curricular programs in school. These programs absorb tremendous resources, so are we seeing a return on our investment? We provide time during the school day for these activities. That doesn’t happen in every state, and it doesn’t happen in every district in the state. We spend millions on constructing and maintaining facilities. This year was the first year in our new football stadium, but since 2008, we’ve built a new basketball gym, Ag show barn, repurposed and remodeled a new band room, and spent thousands on other additions and improvements.

There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of peer-reviewed research studies on the effects of extra-curricular activities on school performance. As one would expect, these studies vary considerably. However, I think most will find a strong general conclusion that extra-curricular activities contribute positively to school performance. I have always believed strongly in the absolute necessity of extra-curricular programs in support of our primary mission.

Success in life will be more probable when one has pursued, developed, and refined skill-sets specific to any chosen vocation. However, there is a more general skill-set that is critical to successfully navigating life. I’m talking about mental and emotional resilience, cognitive clarity while under pressure, physical and mental strength, and the ability to achieve the greatest outcome you can imagine.

That more general skill-set is almost impossible to teach in the classroom; however, it fits perfectly with a quality extra-curricular program. Livestock doesn’t take holidays off. They require care 365 days a year, so imagine the discipline it takes to care for an animal. However, you have to consider that show animals take those responsibilities to an extreme because it’s not enough to throw some feed over the fence and make sure the water is running.

These students are working these animals in preparation for the show ring every day. While some are sleeping in during school breaks, these kids are at the barn before first light. Discipline-emotional toughness-goal / outcome driven.

I see our softball team practicing in late July in preparation for a season that starts in August. The baseball team practicing on the field in February with a wind-chill south of 30 degrees. Dedication to a group effort-mental toughness-task focused.

There are hundreds of examples of how these activities are providing essential life skills to our students. It’s undeniable. It’s also the reason we continue to enthusiastically provide the resources to support those students.

But…I’ve also watched as hyper-competitiveness erodes some of those values. I see it in the stands and on the arena floor. It is more disturbing when we see it begin in the youngest age groups. I’m not ready to make the argument that It’s worse today than 20 years ago, but it wasn’t right 20 years ago either (and I’m not sure it hasn’t gotten worse). Competition can very easily be used to justify questionable practices. Football is a physically demanding sport that rewards male bravado; however, how does the extra push or elbow after the play support the value system that we expect. Of course, it doesn’t, and in fact, takes away from it. I use football as an example while I can easily make similar references to just about every activity we offer.

We often use the phrase, “come out and support your team”; however, what one hears from the stands is just as likely to be derogatory and aimed at the opposing team or officials. Friends, that’s not support, and it often does significant damage to a child’s emotional health. I referenced mental and emotional toughness as traits learned through these activities, and I know many are growing tired of hearing about emotional bullying from “a woke culture”; however, do not think for one second that these students don’t walk away from these encounters with anything less than a negative memory that will persist for a lifetime. These are our kids and grandkids that we support through little league that have to listen to these insults when they get to high school. We’re guilty of it within our community, and we experience it in other communities as well.

On balance, extra-curricular activities are critical to a student’s success, and I will always support them with everything at my disposal. Furthermore, we can strengthen our programs by incorporating support services for the mental and emotional well-being of our students specific to the unique environment of competition, encouraging our students to seek that support, more fully monitoring negative displays of “support”, and more aggressively dealing with those that refuse to respect and celebrate the hard work of these students (ours and others).

If you know a child that is struggling from emotionally damaging taunts or verbal assaults, please contact me or one of our incredible school counselors. We can maintain strict confidentiality when needed. If the child is not comfortable talking to school personnel, we can provide contact information for outside help as well. It will take our entire community to keep the scales tipped in favor of the positive outcomes from extra-curricular programs.

Carla Carmichael, Jones Elementary Counselor, School Psychologist

Susan Gierhart, Jones Middle School Counselor, School Psychologist

Curtis Moses, Jones High School Counselor.