Friday, June 10th, 2016

Most of my readers understand that this column is not just about Sports. Hopefully, it is an insight into life and one Octogenarian’s thinking.

I have always written about Colleges and Universities and the massive amounts of money given for athletic scholarships. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I realize all too well the importance of winning athletic teams.

These teams fill stadiums and arenas. They bring about a great, almost parental, pride to alumni and alumnae. This pride helps to induce the graduates and people sometimes called “subway alums” to reach into their wallets and contribute to various scholarship funds.

However, I do not think that Princeton enjoyed too many donations because of Albert Einstein’s achievements. Nor does NYU amass donations because of Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan’s achievements. I do not believe Union College had many alumni reach into their pockets because the eminent Theologian, Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr taught ethics there.

Yet, not only do successful sports teams raise money for athletic scholarships, but also there is a trickle down system of funding important areas such as Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Engineering and Political Science.

Not enough goes toward helping to develop the future leaders of our nation. It’s tough to raise money that might help develop the next man, or woman who possibly could discover the cure for Cancer, negotiate World Peace, or develop methods of growing crops for starving nations in dusty and arid conditions.

Instead, we place a great emphasis on trying to develop the next Julius Irving, Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, or Dave Winfield .

The sad fact is that of the approximately 480,000 athletes that compete annually in collegiate sports, just a select few move on to compete at the professional or Olympic level.

According to NCAA statistics, the 2016 probability of competing beyond the collegiate level is as follows: in Football, there were approximately 72, 788 competing in college. Among this number 16,175 were eligible for the draft. 256 were drafted and 256, or 1.6% became pros.

In Men’s NCAA basketball, 18, 697 competed. 4,155 were eligible for the draft, 60 were selected. 1.4% made it to the pros. Whereas, those receiving academic scholarships, over 90% were able to work in their selected fields achieving exceptional societal contributions.

Normally, I look on statistics as being a non-exciting way of making a point. However, as the story develops, I believe you, the reader, will see my agitation that in this world of sports adulation, Academia sometimes gets in the way.

All too many believe that the purpose of a College, or university, in this day and age, is to turn out a winning team. Many have lost sight of the real purpose of a college education. They bend and stretch the rules.

Probably, the greatest example of bastardizing the true purpose is what the Kentucky Basketball team has done in its effort to win a Championship. It’s called the “one and done”.

The school awards scholarships to many academically unqualified students whose only purpose is to play Basketball. They play for one year and if their talent is sufficient, they turn pro the next year.

The sad fact is that when their playing days are done, they have limited skills to help them compete in the real world. This is not true about the students who go to college for an education. They leave schools with the tools to compete in life.

I decided to write about today’s subject based on what I learned from watching the National Spelling Bee on Television last week.

Ironically, I believe there is a connection between how one trains for the physical adjure of sports. Preparation for an academic decathlon, in its way, is as demanding as preparing to make the football team.

As a matter of fact, the erudite Decathlon, (the National Spelling Bee), was first brought to Television by George Wallach. George Wallach understood what it takes to be a great competitor, either Academic or Athletic.

After all, George Wallach was Bruce Jenner’s manager right after Bruce set the Decathlon record at the 1976 0lympics. Bruce trained 12 years to achieve his goal. He broke the World Record at the time garnering 8618 points.

In appreciation for all George did for him: — Wheaties, endorsement, TV and movie roles etc.; Bruce had two identical 18 carat gold necklaces made with the number 8618 on each… one for himself and one for George.

George felt training for scholastic competition is not unlike training for an Olympic Decathlon. The discipline is the same with victory as the goal.

In order to get a picture and understand what competing academicians (in this case, High School Students) must do to win a place on the team, I sought out an expert who has gone through many local, regional and national competitions.

Len Soloff is a retired teacher who for years was the coach of perennial champions, North Hollywood, California High School. In his retirement, he still contributes his time as Assistant Coach.

In 18 of 20 years, the North Hollywood team won the Regional eliminations and the right to go to Washington, D.C. to compete. In the District, they were first once, second 7 times, third 6 times. Today, they are considered one of the six top teams of all times.

Like the Athletic teams, at the beginning of each school year, there is a call for students to compete for places on the team. The Spelling Team looks for those who have a vast knowledge for a potpourri of words.

The Science Bowl Olympiad seeks to create a team that comprises of players who possess wide knowledge of building things. The Science Bowl teams coached by Mr. Soloff over 20 years enjoyed an equally successful program. So successful that 100% of the team members have gone on to college and 75% were awarded scholarships.

Today, those college graduates are doctors, astrophysicists and lawyers as well as Biochemists and Academicians. Their lives are full and they are contributing to the good of society.

Looking toward the future, the government considers the Science Olympiad so important that it is funded by the combined efforts of the Departments of Energy, Transportation, Food and Energy.

As soon as a team gets back from the Nationals, the schools start training for the next year. They begin to recruit. They initiate practices and based on what the coaches see, the groups are divided into Varsity and Junior Varsity squads.

Each week, the squads square off… each competitor trying his/her best hoping to be noticed and move up to, or stay on the Varsity.

Usually, the JV of the year before will form the next year’s Varsity. However, if a bright freshman comes along, he/she can challenge for a place on the team. Finally, when the team is formed, 5 will be selected for competition… 4 starters and one alternate.

There is no chance of a concussion, a torn knee, or a separated shoulder. Instead, it is a challenge of the best minds leading to a bright future that doesn’t end with the final bell.

This year, the winning word at the National Spelling Bee to be spelled was the definition of a mountain completely surrounds by glacial ice.

Of course, you knew the answer “NUNATAK”.

Unfortunately, the Science Bowl and the Spelling Bee plays before a small audience… give, or take, 3000 people.

The Alabama football team plays before 80,000 people. I guess that’s why Coach Nick Saban makes over $4million annually and Coach Solof gets a free trip to Washington, D.C.

But then again, the Soloffs of the world only help make citizens who contribute to the betterment of life… ‘Nuf said.