Steps Forward, Steps Back: High School Sports Then and Now


High school athletics have changed quite a bit in the last forty years. Sr. Jerome Zerr and Mr. Rick Potter offer their perspectives on these developments, both positive and negative.

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Warm Up

Historically, sports have played a big role in many students’ high school experience at Central Catholic. However, the sports we see at Central today are far different from Rams athletics years ago. Working in the athletic department since 1977 and 1984, respectively, Sr. Jerome and Mr. Potter have witnessed the transformation of high school sports firsthand. From the introduction of female sports and Title IX to the development of the parent involvement we see today, Sr. Jerome and Mr. Potter have seen the many transformations of high school athletics. Here are the best and worst parts of high school sports today.

Female Sports

One of the biggest changes in high school sports in the modern era is the introduction of more athletic opportunities for female students. This change is brought on by Title Nine, which states that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation” in sports. This amendment caused high schools around the country to establish an equal amount of athletic opportunities for both sexes. In essence, every sport offered for males must have an option for females in the same season. For example, while football is offered in the fall for boys, volleyball is offered for girls. The same goes for baseball and softball in the spring.

Title Nine has had a powerful impact on high school athletics and culture. Before the passage of Title Nine, only one in 27 girls competed in varsity high school sports. By 2001, the statistic had jumped to one in 2.5 girls, totaling to 2.8 million female students participating.

Why it’s Fair

Title Nine embodied a crucial point in the movement toward equal opportunity for men and women alike. Today, many students at Central Catholic are as likely to attend a volleyball game as a boys basketball game, a fact that may never have been possible without Title Nine. Sports like girls golf, softball, and even girls soccer may not have existed at Central Catholic if not for Title Nine.

Today, with so many girls involved in sports in our school, it’s easy to take for granted the impact it has in fostering an environment of equal opportunity and community. Sr. Jerome says one of the biggest changes in Central Catholic athletics since beginning work here is the addition of many sports teams, a huge change from when she began work here: “When I first came, basically, it was football, basketball, track, baseball…there were just basically the big sports.” Today, Central Catholic provides opportunities to compete in varsity cross country, soccer, football, volleyball, swimming, basketball, track, baseball, softball, golf, tennis, and lacrosse. Mr. Potter agrees, saying, “To me, the biggest change was adding girls….It doubled the kids that were participating and just changed the school entirely.”

Athletes Under Pressure

High School students today face tremendous amounts of pressure, and student-athletes are no different. This pressure can come from parents, coaches, or the need for a scholarship to pay for college, among others. Years ago, one could walk into the Old Gym for a Varsity basketball game and join the ten other fans watching. Nowadays, a varsity game could attract a crowd of hundreds. While the extra attention can be good for the school and adds excitement to these events, bigger crowds and more parent involvement can continue to apply pressure to young athletes, putting them under an immense amount of stress.

Why it’s Foul

The recently-established pressure on high school athletes began with a transition in their motivation to play sports. While students used to participate because they loved the game, often times high schoolers today are pushed to play by their parents. Regarding parent involvement, Mr. Potter notes that “people that are that invested believe they should be making decisions that only the coaches can make.” This reveals another element of pressure in the incessant need to be the best. When parents don’t see their child playing or playing well, they immediately look for someone to blame. Sr. Jerome said it best, explaining, “Every parent is a coach….In the public system, they pay taxes so they can have a say, and here they pay tuition so they can have a say.”

The other major aspect of pressure on young athletes is the competition for a college scholarships. For some, an athletic scholarship is the only way they can afford a college education, and the fact is, these scholarships are extremely rare, especially for students at a school such as Central Catholic. “The competition for spots in college is huge…and Central’s really not that big of a school when you look at it realistically.” One of the biggest reasons for this need for financial aid is the astronomical cost of college tuition today. Mr. Potter connected the two issues of parent involvement and pressure from colleges, explaining,  “College has gotten to be so tremendously expensive that parents are looking for any way they can to get help.”

The unfortunate thing about some parents who may be overly invested in their child’s athletics is that they are truly out for their child’s best interest. The parents channel their desire for the child to receive a college education into fanatical involvement, and in turn create a ton of pressure for the student actually participating in the sport.

The Bottom Line

As in any aspect of the generation gap, there are pros and cons to the ways sports have progressed over the years. While high school sports took a huge step forward with Title IX, the pressure felt by many athletes today can ruin students’ high school years.

Asked what advice he’d give young athletes today, Mr. Potter stressed, “Have fun. That’s what it’s about. If you’re not having fun, you shouldn’t be participating…I don’t know if kids really think of it as fun anymore, but you gotta have fun. That’s what sports are about!”

As Sr. Jerome says, “There’s so much pressure on [athletes]…sometimes you don’t get a chance to be a kid.” Sister went on to advise students to live in the moment: “Enjoy it. Enjoy the ride. Even if it’s hard work, enjoy the ride.”



Chadband, Emma. “Nine Ways Title IX has Helped Girls and Women in Education.” NEA Today, National Education Association, 21 June 2012,