HED:What if we tried as hard for academics?

CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)

AUTHOR: BOBBY

HED:What if we tried as hard for academics?

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal

JACKSON – Mississippi has a great deal to be proud of.

And always close to the top of the list of items that should stir pride in Mississippians is the athletic prowess of its people.

The accomplishments of Mississippians and Mississippi teams on the playing field are numerous and are well documented in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum here in Jackson for both the avid sports fan and the casual observer to see.

But one does not have to look in a museum to see that Mississippians excel on the fields of athletics. The sports pages of the Daily Journal do an excellent job of documenting the accomplishments of Mississippians and Mississippi teams.

It is literally difficult to live in this state without bumping into sports greats. Even skinny old yours truly had the distinction as a teen-ager of getting to play tennis against the son of Olympic long jump gold medalist Ralph Boston of Laurel.

Indeed, Mississippi’s successes are truly amazing. For instance, just this year, Mississippi — the poorest state in the nation with about 2.6 million people — had three Division IA football teams finish 7-4 or better. And just a step down in Division IAA, Jackson State had a strong year and qualified for the playoffs.

True, this has been pointed out countless times, but think how good a Mississippi team would be if the best players from Mississippi State, Southern Mississippi and the University of Mississippi were placed on one team.

But, of course, that’s not going to happen. Still, despite being in a state with a small and poor population, Mississippi universities still field year in and year out competitive football teams.

And in basketball, State, Ole Miss and USM all have had success in recent years. Of course, Mississippi State’s appearance in the Final Four of the NCAA basketball tournament was a phenomenal accomplishment. In baseball, Mississippi State has built one of the best programs in the country. Both State and Ole Miss have excellent tennis programs.

Yes, when we Mississippians put our minds to it, we can accomplishment a great deal.

And as much as I like sports (turn on my car radio and it is tuned to an all sports talk station) I sometimes wonder how good we could be academically if we put as much enthusiasm and effort into our public schools.

Sure we have a great many excellent public schools — many, of course, in Northeast Mississippi. Still, in this state, we have many school districts that are struggling.

They are struggling to maintain decent buildings, and they are struggling to find decent teachers. State government, in my opinion, is making a good faith effort to help these districts.

Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m still convinced that the state could do more financially to help educate many of the state’s poor children. After all, too many of these children practically raise themselves and often have no one at home who can provide the loving and nurturing environment that all children should receive. But I also admit there is only so much the state can do.

Just like there is only so much the state can do – or should do – to help Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Southern Miss field competitive football, basketball or baseball teams. For an athletic program to be successful, it takes a great deal of help from the private sector – from the fans.

For a school to be successful and for students from a school to be successful, it takes a great deal of support from the community and from the private sector. It’s time Mississippians support our schools and our students’ academic efforts with the same effort and enthusiasm that we support our athletic endeavors.

A legislator told me of visiting a community in a depressed Mississippi Delta county. He said he went to the school and all of the students were poor African-Americans. The teachers and administrators were doing the best they could, but it was obvious they needed more help because of the poverty of the students in the school. Then he went to the chamber of commerce and it was all white. At the chamber, the people complained that the schools were not providing the skills that would attract employers to the area.

Maybe, it’s time for the chambers and for others in the business community to get more involved. And that doesn’t necessarily mean serving on school boards.

What it might mean is spending time helping to tutor slow learners, speaking to classes, providing input to teachers and administrators and, yes, providing financial support.

Maybe it’s time to provide financial support just like we do when we plop down $25 to see Ole Miss play football or when we give a donation to help build another athletic facility.

That enthusiasm is admirable. Maybe, it’s time we channel it to where it really counts.

Bobby Harrison is chief of the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau.