Nontraditional sports provide opportunities for students

I’ve covered hundreds of high school sporting events through years, but a former player named Kenny stands out.

Kenny does not stand out in my mind because he was a great athlete. Just the opposite.

Kenny was the backup center on his basketball team and not a very good one at that. Kenny stood about 5-foot-8 and, if he were a trailer, he’d be a double wide. There was some laughter whenever Kenny got a chance to play, which was a rare.

Kenny was strong, and I remember thinking he would’ve been better served on a wrestling team or football team. The problem was that the small, rural school Kenny attended did not have a wrestling or football team. So, Kenny is likely remembered as being unskilled and kind of clownish, which is highly unfair considering the limited opportunities he had in high school sports.

I am confident Kenny would be viewed much differently if he were in high school today, where there are more opportunities for students who want to be part of a team. They range from the meat-and-potato sports like football, basketball and baseball to nontraditional activities like mountain biking, archery, bowling and trap shooting. People can argue whether activities like trap shooting is a sport or a recreation, but we can all agree that providing outlets to push kids off the couch or to put down their cellphones is a good thing.

Many are convinced that lacrosse will take the same trajectory as when high school wrestling was first introduced in Arkansas. I remember when there were only a few schools like Gosnell, Mountain Home and the Arkansas School for the Blind that had wrestling teams, and they wrestled mostly against teams from Missouri.

But wrestling grew rapidly in popularity and was accepted as a sanctioned sport by the Arkansas Activities Association in 2008. Over 50 schools now field teams in Arkansas, and athletes like former state champion Tyler Mann (Little Rock Central/Oklahoma State) have earned college scholarships in wrestling.

In May, Utah became the 25th state to accept boys and girls lacrosse teams as a sanctioned sport. The Northwest Arkansas Lacrosse Club in Bentonville is leading the charge here for full membership and the possibility of a lacrosse player from Arkansas earning a scholarship to a traditional power like Duke or Virginia could come sooner than anticipated.

While lacrosse might still be a foreign concept for many in Arkansas, powerlifting, rodeo and fishing are not. I’ve long associated powerlifting with football, but there is a growing chorus in Arkansas that powerlifting should be a separate and sanctioned sport.

“I would like to see powerlifting added because Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska (have it), and it’s something for those guys in the offseason to compete,” said Alma football coach Dough Loughridge, whose school hosted a state meet last spring that drew more than 50 teams and 400 participants. “A lot of the successful teams that win at these meets are some of the ones you see playing in late November and December.”

Whether it’s a club or sanctioned sport, there are benefits for high school students to become involved. The National Federation of High School Associations, the governing body for high school athletics, cites teamwork and cooperation, time management, fitness, community representation, social relationships and, in many cases, improved academic performance.

Besides those benefits, people have long participated in sports because they love to compete. It’s that simple.

So, get off the couch.

Put down the cellphone, and get involved.

Whatever your interest is, there’s likely a team out there waiting for you.

Rick Fires can be reached at rfires@nwadg.com or on Twitter@NWARick.

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