Baltimore is a playful, vibrant place. You need go no further than the parking lot of M&T Bank Stadium to watch adults chasing each other around, football in hand, before and after a Ravens game. If you stroll through Federal Hill, Patterson Park or Canton on any given evening, you will almost certainly run into an adult kickball, broomball, or dodgeball team on the way to a game. Even very late on weeknights on the dimly lit field of the park near my home in Hampden, there are without fail adults playing ultimate Frisbee well after dusk. This is a good thing, but play should not stop with young professionals enjoying kickball, tailgating pigskin fanatics, and hardcore ultimate Frisbee players.
My audacious idea for Baltimore is not only for adults to enjoy the many benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle, but for play to be available to the people who execute it so deftly and naturally, and desire it more wantonly then anyone else.
I’m talking, of course, about Baltimore’s children.
Healthy physical activity for children has become less and less of a school priority as the demands on educators have swayed drastically in the direction of standardized testing and academic rigor. While pure academics are certainly integral to student’s day, recess was once just as much a part of the day as classroom time. I’m sure, like me, you remember recess as a positive, exciting part of your day where you played with your friends and classmates in a variety of games. You had fun, you learned, and you developed a love for one or many sports that you would carry with you the rest of your life. And, like me, you probably had a caring adult in your life that shaped who you were through coaching and mentoring.
Unfortunately for many students in Baltimore City Schools, this is not their reality. When we at Sports4Kids came to Baltimore for a demonstration week in 2004, we worked with some schools that had offered no recess the entire year until we showed up. The children were astonished that they were being allowed to play outside, and that there was a caring adult there who was as energetic and excited about play as they were. Play is a fundamental part of human existence, and to deny it to our students does a disservice to who they are as people.
Through partnering with 17 BCPSS schools, over the past three years Sports4Kids and its allies have instituted healthy, safe, inclusive and (most importantly) fun physical activity for thousands of students in our city. All the while, we have seen improving school climate, sense of community amongst students, and burgeoning leadership and teamwork skills in the schools we partner with. But change will not come through Sports4Kids alone. We need to rethink what makes up a child’s school day. It can’t just be long division, and it can’t just be kickball.
My question is simply, why can’t it – and why isn’t it – both?