Thirteen months ago, I wrote about the hostility charter-school athletic teams faced across the nation as they sought an equal opportunity to compete against their peers. The impetus for the piece was the story of Friendship Collegiate Academy and their sterling record of winning games and graduating students. While last school year was the first time that schools like Friendship were allowed to compete on an even playing field with their traditional public-school counterparts, this year the schools have received a greater degree of equality and have formed their own league, the Charter School Athletic Association.
This new league, while allowing charters to face one another, will also result in some facing-off against traditional public schools in citywide tournaments and championship games. Some may be quick to dismiss this news as only a sports story, but they ignore the important role sports play within society.
This new league will help D.C.-area charter schools for the following four reasons:
1. Increased visibility for all charters. This league will undoubtedly raise the profile of all regional charter schools as their students compete with their traditional public school peers in soccer, volleyball, basketball, and softball. (The league formed too late for football.) For schools whose athletic directors have used trash cans as office chairs and whose players warmed up for practice in industrial-style storage bins or used traffic barrels as tackling dummies, this progress is remarkable and has already given Friendship national coverage in the ESPN blog, Grantland.
2. The potential “Flutie Effect” on charter-school interest. The more charter-school athletes compete—and win—the more their schools will win. By lifting the school’s profile, the next development may be more student interest—otherwise known as the “Flutie Effect.” This phenomenon is named after Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie, whose last-minute touchdown pass against the University of Miami lead to a surge of applications to his alma mater (some put the increase at 30 percent). In short: Athletic success is the best advertising for schools. Or as Harvard business-school assistant professor of marketing Doug J. Chung said, “The primary form of mass media advertising by academic institutions in the United States is, arguably, through their athletic programs.”
3. More resources for all charter students. By lifting schools’ profile and helping attract more students, these teams and the league may be the means to more public funding. Any teachers or administrators familiar with “count day” knows, more students equal more dollars. In this manner, student-athlete wins should translate into wins for all charter students.
4. A greater role in the community. By having an association like an athletic league, D.C. charter schools will become a greater part of the community. Parents and teachers will gather together for games, and the athletic competitions will serve as a meeting point for people from the neighborhood and throughout the city— tying individuals closer together. Sports teams and athletic leagues will help anchor charters to communities, helping to defeat the argument that charter schools diminish the “neighborhood” aspect of public schools.
On the field, it doesn’t matter if these schools are charter or traditional, STEM- or art-focused. What’s important is that they win. By having sports teams, and now an athletic league, charters and their students will see greater benefits.