Let Kids be Kids
SI’s Lee Jenkins’s story on Eastern Christian Academy is one of the most sickening things I have ever read. In the piece Jenkins details the brand new “high school” and its unique curriculum and athletic department. The school was created this year by David Sills IV who’s son, David Sills V, made headlines a couple of years ago when he committed to USC as a seventh grader. Eastern Christian Academy sickens me because it takes away the most valuable thing that anyone is given in life, a childhood.
Eastern is comprised almost entirely of football players whom were all attending nearby Red Lion Christian last season. Sills IV basically founded, and funded the football program at Red Lion so that he could own the high school team his son would be playing on. He built state of the art facilities, and brought in players to come play with his son. The team was so good that they had to create a schedule that took the Lions all over the country. Because of the rigorous schedule the state of Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association threatened to not recognize the school unless a change was made. The school decided to comply with the DIAA, Sills IV decided that he no longer wanted his kid there.
Instead of sending his son to another high school, Sills IV created Eastern, which enrolls 46 male students and suits up 46 football players. The school is free of the “distractions” of regular classes, a social life, and a normal childhood. The school features all online classes, and all classrooms are located in Sills IV’s office building. Just to rub Red Lion’s noses in it, Eastern even has the same school colors as Red Lion and basically the same logo. (The biggest annoyance to me though is that they are their mascot is the honey badger, are they going to change it every year to the trendiest nickname?) It’s a clear-cut example of two of the worst about youth sports, the little league dad, and specialization.
The little league dad and specialization ruin the beauty of youth sports it takes away youth sports’ innocence. Youth sports should be a group of kids playing sports for the pure enjoyment of the sport. It should be an opportunity for kids to get a chance to try not just one sport, but also a variety. Almost every professional athlete grew up playing multiple sports and can even credit some of their success in their pro sport to those they played as an amateur (i.e. Antonio Gates.) Youth sports should also not take up so much time that a kid has no room for any non-sports related activities. Fathers like Sills IV pigeonhole their kids into one specialized role that they will have to be the rest of their life. Sills will have to be an NFL quarterback then a coach, it’s all he’s been taught. Kids like Sills V will never get a chance to find out what truly makes them happy. Maybe Sills V would rather be a doctor, doesn’t matter he’ll never have the chance. Who am I to say that it Sills V’s passion wouldn’t be football, but at least give a kid the chance to figure it out on his own.
Because of the situation Sills IV has set up, Sills V will miss out on a normal childhood. This is a problem because he will not get the in classroom education that his peers will, and in a sport like football careers can end on any play which makes a strong education to fall back on imperative. It also creates a situation where Sills IV will not be able to develop socially. He’ll miss out on prom, and he’ll lose the chance to meet kids with skills that don’t involve running and catching. In the real world 99.9% of the people don’t make their living as an athlete, so how is Sills V going to understand 99.9% of the people in the world if he isn’t exposed to them in his youth. He will also have to play under a microscope for the rest of his career which will make it impossible for him to have any slip ups without public scrutiny.
Even if his career goes well, the added media praise will be a problem too. It’s going to be hard for him to learn humility when his whole life will be filled with “yes men” and ass-kissers. It creates a similar environment to those of child stars; ask Lindsay Lohan and Danny Bonaduce how that turns out.
Kids need to be kids before they become stars because they need to understand what it’s like to just be normal so when their careers are over they will know what to revert too. Schools like Eastern Christian take that away from kids. They will set themselves up to always be football players because their time explore and learn a variety of things, their childhood, will be taken away prematurely. Good luck to those honey badgers who don’t find success if football, especially Sills V, because if it doesn’t work out they will be without guidance.