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Both the opponents and upholders of college sports, who have expressed their views in the public press, have often proved themselves quite ignorant of the inside workings, of the results, direct and indirect, of the tendencies and even the true aims, of college athletics. Both sides, says a prominent Princeton senior, in an able article published in the initial number of The Student and Statesman, assume a false premise, viz., that the inter-collegiate contests affect but a small number of men. It is time that those who understand from daily experience the actual working of the whole system, should have a hearing. The inter-collegiate contest is the main point of attack. The opponents of the system assert that college sports and the benefits arising therefrom are confined to a very few - that the "nine," the "eleven," and the "four" or the "eight" form a small proportion of the college; and that hence the manifest evils of inter-collegiate contests are not to be endured for the sake of the benefit done to a few athletes. They insist that the evils are many and positive. Large concourses of students gather in the cities subject to all the excitement of college rivalry, to all the temptations offered by college friends, and to all the opportunities of a holiday in a large city. These are, clearly enough, grave objections, and can be urged against some (by no means against all) of the inter-collegiate contests. The time lost to the student, the money expended by the college, and the attention distracted from the studies of the curriculum, have all been enlarged upon and exaggerated.
But it is the bottom premise of all this reasoning that is at fault. College athletic sport as stimulated and maintained by inter-collegiate contests is not confined to a few; and such sport so sustained brings "compensating advantages" for all the real evils incurred, if not for all the imaginary ones.
It is during the winter months that the student is most likely to neglect proper exercise, while in the spring and summer the inducements to out-of-door sport are many and strong. The prospect of inter-collegiate games in the spring fills the college gymnasium during the winter. When warm weather comes the crews and nines, selected from many candidates, take to the water or go on the diamond. But this occurs only after long months of excellent daily exercise by hundreds of college students continued through the very season when exercise is most irksome. Remove the inter-collegiate game, the inter-collegiate boat race and the annual inter-collegiate athletic meeting, and most of the systematic and judicious work now done by the college student in the gymnasium will be left undone. To exercise for the sake of exercise is most laborious to the average college man.
Class games and the rivalry between individuals is scarcely sufficient to keep men at regular work when they can be out of doors; and they are totally inadequate to induce men to go into a careful system of winter training. "Winte training" means an hour's moderate work in the gymnasium daily. The present interest in class contests, small as it is, is chiefly owing to the training they give to men who are possible candidates for the 'Varsity teams or crews. Hence the interest in them would dwindle to almost nothing, were the inter-collegiate contests abolished or materially decreased in number. With no stimulus to regular exercise, spasmodic attempts at physical culture would supersede the present general, systematic, and in the main, judicious work continued through several months. "Time, money and energy," are certainly expended; but are there no returns? These quantities, too, have been much exaggerated. The time wasted (?) is an hour and a half a day during three or four months for a large number of men; and two or three hours daily during some eight weeks for a much smaller number. Add to this five or six whole days for the latter set of men, and the result is the total time expended. Not a bad bargain for young men who want strong bodies and some of whom would otherwise be neglecting and often times actively destroying their constitutions. Each year base-ball and foot-ball become more and more self-supporting - at Princeton they are quite so.
Hence the money consideration, even if it were a weighty one, must soon be confined to boating. The expenditure of energy is certainly not an unmixed evil, some men are rather the better for it. There's many a lazy boy who has come to college and lost his inertness through the rivalry of college sports and gone out from his alma mater an energetic man, wholly through the influence of his efforts in the athletic arena.
There are three classes of students in our universities. There is the student who is simply a "college man," who dresses, carries a cane, smokes a cigarette and talks. There is the student who is simply a student, sorry in figure and mean in feature - scholarly and consumptive. There is the student who is trained in mind and body, - mentally and physically cultured, standing often-times near the top of his class, thoroughly prepared for life's struggles. After the necessary restrictions have been made against extremes, those colleges graduate the most men of the last class, which encourages a due allowance of inter-collegiate rivalry. For only by such a course can college athletics be sustained, and college students, as a mass, induced to undertake regular and systematic exercise.
In connection with the above article the following from a recent article in the Congregationalist by Prof. Fisher of Yale will be found of interest:
"The deliverance of our colleges from the pranks which formerly broke the slumber of tutors and proctors must be ascribed in part to the indirect influence of the new athletic sports. They afford a vent to the surplus energy of youth, which formerly expended itself in muscular undertakings of a more destructive nature. There is, also, probably far less lounging in rooms during leisure hours than prevailed before the in-door gymnastics and the exciting field sports came into fashion. The effect on the health of the students, it cannot be doubted, has been extremely beneficial. Games in the open air, which call for the utmost vigilance, self-possession, promptness and pluck in those who take part in them, are not without an effect on character. They are a mental and moral discipline of no slight value. That a considerable portion of the leisure time of students is most profitably passed in athletic exercises, such as rowing, ball-playing and gymnastics, exercises which promote digestion and sound sleep, tend to dissipate distempered fancies and stimulate manly energy, may be safely admitted."
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