Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 16th annual Super26 dinner, co-hosted by the Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association and the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston.
I know I speak for both organizations when I say thank you for being with us this evening. You’ll hear from their presidents shortly.
If I were the president – president of the United States – I’d be thanking you too. And we’d be holding this gathering in the White House, and the award presentations in the Rose Garden.
That’s because what you’ve done is critically important to our country. To the fabric of our society. To what makes us Americans. You may well be the ones who are standing in the front lines, holding back a trend that is not good news for America.
I hope I’m wrong about that. But it’s worth mentioning.
When Alexis de Tocqueville traveled around this country back in the 1830s. He wrote his monumental work, “Democracy in America.” He was trying to tell the people of the Old World why America is unique among nations.
What he said then, I think, is just as true today as it was 180 years ago.
Americans are individual achievers. They strive to better themselves in ways that Europeans never imagined. But Americans also put that individualism together with that of others whose values they share. To strive for a common purpose, in community groups that are independent of their king and theig government.
DeTocqueville called that “self-interest properly understood.” It was a check on the tyranny that Americans had come here to escape. It was unique. It made America, America.
This is political philosophy, but it’s relevant to our gathering this evening. I got to thinking about it recently when I read a Wall Street Journal Article about trends in youth sports participation. Over the last five years, those trends are not encouraging.
In the four most-popular team sports – baseball, basketball, soccer, and football – combined participation by both boys and girls is off by 4% between 2008 and 2012. In some places, it’s worse. Ohio high-school basketball is off 15%. Sales of baseball bats are down 18%.
According to the soccer federation’s physical activity council, the percentages of inactive youth are up from 15% to 20%.
During those same five years, the population of six-to-17 year olds went down by less than one percent. Translation: same number of kids, a lot fewer of them playing team sports.
What’s going on here? Yes, there is a heightened fear of injury. But these numbers are from all sports, not just the contact ones.
Is it too much technology, and social networking, and video games? Have sports become too expensive? Is it not that much fun anymore, to be a member of a team, unless you’re an elite player?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. But if these figures tell of a real sustaining trend, it’s a problem for America. And if it’s a problem, what you are doing is the solution.
The Center for Disease Control has been telling us that childhood obesity is way up since the 1980s. And our political leaders are blaming sugary drinks in high school cafeterias. Wrong.
Being physically active is the way to overcome obesity. But that is just one big benefit. Being physically active, in the context of a team sport, brings so much more. Self-control. Discipline. Pushing your own limits. Contributing to your group’s success. Understanding your own role and responsibility to others.
Or, as Mr. DeTocqueville would say, seeing to your self-interest, properly understood. The essence of America.
Playing team sports, and representing our schools and communities as you do, is one of the many things that make this country exceptional.
Super26 members, you’re the cream, and I congratulate you. But the cream can’t rise to the top unless it’s part of big jug of milk.
We’re honoring you tonight, but we’re celebrating all of your team mates. And your coaches and officials. They’ve all made possible what you’ve done. And they, like you, have done their parts to keep this great country strong and great and exceptional.
That’s why, when I’m elected president, we’re moving this dinner to the White House. I hope I’ll see you all there.