Smithsonian panel discusses the importance of sports to students

ELKINS – Randolph County Superintendent of Schools Terry George joined three West Virginia University professors at the Randolph County Community Arts Center Monday to discuss the importance of sports opportunities for students.

Monday’s panel discussion was the first of six events scheduled in conjunction with “Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America,” the newest Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit to take up residence at the RCCAC.

In a room decorated with pictures and jerseys of those who have excelled athletically in Randolph County, the event’s moderator, Dr. Dana Brooks, professor and dean of the West Virginia University College of Physical Activity and Sports Sciences, described the forum as a “significant community event.”

George talked about a list of benefits he feels are important opportunities for students that can be gained through school sports.

“I generally refer to the best benefits as life lessons,” George said. “Those life lessons are academic benefits, emotional benefits and physical benefits. When you speak of life lessons, the things that I took with me from participating in athletics were practice, patience and persistence.”

“Athletics are very important to us here in Randolph County. We teach our students a lot of very important lessons with athletics every day,” George said.

Dr. Ed Etzel, an Olympic gold medalist in riflery, and a WVU professor of sport and exercise psychology, talked about the benefits of sports he has seen through his career as a licensed psychologist.

Etzel said exercise is proven to help mood disorders, depression and anxiety. He said exercise is often prescribed to patients as a valid treatment in many psychological practices.

Etzel believes good exercise habits should be learned at a young age and carried through adulthood.

“I think there’s something about being active and engaged in that type of event. You’ll be able to sort of function a little bit better, be a little bit more productive and a healthy citizen,” Etzel said.

Dr. Kristen Dieffenbach, associate professor in athletic coaching education at WVU, discussed how important the passing of the Title IX Act and Amendments has been in her career and for many women nationally.

The act has contributed to the careers of thousands of women, allowing them to gain better health and benefits, and even become professional sports players and coaches themselves, she said.

“Those 37 words really changed things,” Dieffenbach said.

She said some of the benefits for girls have included long-term health benefits, higher graduation rates, less activity concerning drinking, unprotected sex and unwanted pregnancy.

“Just women being physically active has been linked to long-term health benefits with decreases in the risk of osteoporosis and osteopenia, a decreased risk of heart and cardiovascular disease, and problems of that nature,” Dieffenbach said.

Through research and current events, Dieffenbach said sports opportunities have increased but a gap is opening. Although there are women role models in the sports world, there aren’t as many women’s coaches. The amount of access sportswomen have to positions on teams has decreased.

Asked why she felt this was happening, Dieffenbach said funding remains a large issue.

The next Smithsonian panel at the RCCAC will be at 3 p.m. July 7. Robert Barnett, PhD, from Marshall University will lecture and discuss his book, “Hillside Fields: A History of Sports in West Virginia.”