Misplaced passion

By Candace Begody
Navajo Times

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Most of my evenings I spend working out at the Window Rock Sports Center or Wellness Center.

After a workout a couple nights ago, I was leaving the Sports Center when I heard some cheering and dribbles on the basketball hardwood. It turns out there was a basketball tournament in progress for elementary students.

Taking advantage of the opportunity for a potential sports story, I sat down to observe the 5- to 7-year-olds running up and down the basketball court. Some were intent on faking out their opponents and going to the hoop, while others stood under the basket uninterested and looking as if they had been forced to play.

Then I looked to the bleachers. Needless to say, in the bleachers were filled with fans - passionate ones.

As I watched the crowd, I was taken back to high school and reminded of my basketball days. I didn't lead my team to a state championship nor was I the leading scorer. In fact, I was one of those who warmed the bench and asked to finish out the last three seconds of a game we had already lost.

From the bench, though, I observed the loud, angry crowds and it always amazed me how fans roared their opinions while in the stands at the risk of making a public mockery of themselves.

Likewise, at the Sports Center, the fans were yelling, "Shoot!" "Dribble!" "Pass the ball!" "Take the ball away!" They were aggressively encouraging their athletes to play as if they were competing for a championship title.

Brought back to present day, I gave up the idea of sports story and, though hopeless, I did some wishful thinking.

I wish these parents were just as energetic and passionate about the quality of education their children receive as they are about them playing basketball. Or are they?

I didn't talk to anyone so there may have very well been people in the crowd who go above and beyond to ensure their kids are getting a good education. There may have also been some who pay minimal attention to their schoolwork or maybe some who simply don't have it in them to utter the importance of education.

My guess is that there were more in the crowd who wanted their child to perfect their jump shot and become the future leading scorer of their high schools, rather than encouraging them to be equally a jock and science-fair winner.

So then, like any Facebook enthusiast, I went straight to my "News Feed" and tell the world about my wishful thinking. In came some disappointing figures - of my 1,115 friends, I got 23 "Likes" and only five comments.

The comments were in agreement though.

"Education lasts a lifetime!" two said.

Another, "Omg those are my thoughts exactly everytime i see the bleachers full at bball tourney and only 3 people at a health or school presentation."

The third said, "Filling the stadium encouraging our kids to pursue higher education should be the ideal thing. Yes, education is the key to our success."

And finally, "I always say that when I see an elementary gym packed with parents that rarely make it to school meetings!"

I continued to sit and by this time, I had lost interest in the game as my initial thought had rippled into a deeper questioning about education and sports on the Navajo Nation - something I was even thinking about in high school.

While attending Ganado High, where I also worked for the school newspaper, I wrote a column about the Ganado Pavilion. At the time, the multi-million dollar project had just been completed.

The construction of the Ganado Pavilion was the best thing that had happened to the community but I was of the minority when I spoke out against the project.

My editorial, which never ran, posed questions about why the school district was investing in a sports facility when our chemistry labs were unsafe to use and just simply outdated.

When I spoke out against the sports-facility project, the newspaper sponsor, who was also a teacher at the time, read it and was surprised. Perhaps he was surprised because of the change in thought or an objection to a culture that puts athletes at the top of the hierarchy.

He later informed me that because it was controversial, my piece had to be read by the principal and then approved by the school board to run in the high school newspaper.

Naïve of the situation, I left it at that not knowing that I was being "censored," as we say in the news industry.

Ironically, I was dubbed a jock in high school but I competed because my dad said it would make me "tough." He basically said to find the life lessons within sports. Indeed, sports taught me plenty.

Cross country, for example, or just long-distance running in general, is an individual sport in which one must perform alone.

I've been running since I can remember and it's taught me self-discipline and self-motivation - no one can force you to run, or challenge yourself, or finish a race for you.

Because of running, I have a strong spirituality, a sort of mental toughness, and strive to finish everything I start. It has allowed me to set goals and reach them, and to accept loss and rejection because if you don't put in the work, you don't anything out of races but a loss.

Basketball taught me that two minds are better than one. It taught how far selfishness will get you, but also how to work and trust as a team.

Yes, I know what sports can do for overall personality because I got out of it exactly what my dad said I would.

But as I looked around this gymnasium full of basketball players, volunteer coaches, parents, friends, siblings, aunts, uncles - everyone the young athletes look up to - I wondered if they will feel like just because they are athletes, they don't have to put in the study time.

Having been a sportswriter, I have heard from many coaches about how one or some students are not being held accountable for his or her actions. I have heard from coaches that they will raise the academic expectations of their student-athletes only to be resisted by parents, principals, even school boards.

I have seen parents rally against teachers who challenge their students in the classroom.

And so I ask myself, "What kind of message are we sending to our youth? Where would the Navajo Nation really be if its citizens put the same kind of time, energy, and passion into the quality of education of their young ones that they do when it comes to basketball?"

This coming from someone who was an all-around athlete in high school and whose career revolves around the sports.