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Every year, near the end of Summer, the smell of popcorn, face paint, and freshly mowed grass fills the air in cities and towns around the state. Friday night lights and the chill of the early fall air is a familiar feeling to Arkansans of all ages.
High school sports are important to every community in Arkansas, but it is most important to those who participate, the student-athletes. Our students spend so much time of their young life learning how to serve, dribble, and catch a ball. They learn to make a tackle or march in the band.
But the special thing about sports for our children is what they can learn that translates to the rest of their life. Sports teach responsibility and discipline. Our children learn to practice honesty and to have passion for their goals.
They teach how to be resourceful and take situations they aren’t familiar with and make the best out of them. There was a time, not too long ago, during the pandemic that many states canceled school and cancelled sports. I heard from parents, teachers, and student-athletes about how important school was and the sports and other extracurricular programs that go with school.
I told our Secretary of Education and the public that we had to have school in the fall of 2020, and that’s exactly what we did. We had to make many changes to how we operated, we made adjustments to our daily lives, but ultimately we as a community, were resourceful and made it work. Our students continued to participate in the extracurricular activities they hold dearly, all while going to school and continuing their education.
In fact, Arkansas ranked second in the nation for in-classroom instruction during the pandemic. Allowing our school districts to make decisions based on their unique needs kept the health and safety of our students and families a top priority without forcing all schools to follow one set of rules.
In the fall of 2020, I received a letter from a senior at Greenwood High School. Her name was Hannah Watkins and she played volleyball for the Bulldogs. In her letter she talked about how her team huddled around the T.V. watching a press conference where I announced that high school sports would be played during that upcoming school year.
Hannah and her team went on to win the 5A State title in volleyball that season. In the letter she told me they followed all the precautions “to a T” and did whatever they could to make sure they were ready to play. Now, Hannah is playing college volleyball in Arkansas.
This is an amazing example of how sports instill meaningful qualities in our children. They had a goal. They did everything it took to reach that goal, and even though many things had to adjust they were successful in their endeavor.
Tonight, many young Arkansans will be battling it out against each other on the turf, and in the end some teams will win and some will lose. But the sun will rise again tomorrow, and those life lessons they learned will carry on with them for a lifetime.