Hey kids — you're missing a big game

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In a recent column about paying attention during the national anthem, I said that if young children want to waste an entire game running around under the bleachers or playing games instead of learning from the varsity contest, that's their problem.

I've decided their listlessness is everyone's problem.

If more children were paying attention during sports, classes and other events set up for their benefit, we'd all benefit. While it might be somewhat impossible for parents to follow children all day and make sure they pay attention in school, the ones who want to excel in sports would do well to pay attention at games.

Of course, getting children to sit and watch high school athletics would be no easy task — but it might be an essential one. Just as engaging children and making learning sound fun and necessary is critical to reforming our sagging educational system, involving more young people as athletics spectators might be a necessary component of building tomorrow's winning teams.

Administrators and coaches are already trying to create entertaining matchups, both through realignment and scheduling. In New Mexico, depth on some teams is such that the graduation or injury of a handful of athletes, or even one, drags a squad from state title contention to a doormat. Who can build a young people's fan base around that kind of fragility?

One thing that would help focus our youth would be if children were not allowed to run wild within venues. I can live with the occasional oblivious four year old wandering in front of my camera, but it's safety that concerns me. The eight year old sprinting under the bleachers could end up with a painful "lesson" on the top of the head — or something worse could happen.

I cannot believe New Mexico administrators don't see a huge liability here — especially since risk management (and career preservation) seem to be huge priorities. Schools cannot force people to pay attention, but insisting that all fans stay in the seating area of a facility seems reasonable and important to me. It wouldn't be an easy battle to fight, but it would help on many levels.

Not all facilities have clearly defined boundaries, but added staffing and better enforcement of existing attendance rules would help, too. Yes, this would be an added expense, but so is a lawsuit over an injured child. Several administrators have told me it has been many years since a serious accident, but that doesn't make the risk any less.

If cheerleaders had an audience located in a more central location, they could involve these children more. Not only could cheerleaders come up with chants that engage and empower young fans, but the smallest ones could actually take on roles.

The halftime events involving dance-studio students or cheer-camp participants have shown how willing young children are to get involved. What five-year-old wouldn't relish the chance to hold up a "Go" sign or the letter "S" for the crowd?

The amount of energy children need to expend is viewed as rationale for why they must run wild at games. But in other states, there is not always space or a configuration that allows for running around.

New Mexico baseball and softball fields make me so nervous, with a foul ball launched toward young noggins each inning. I was taught to pay attention and to know what's happening in the game, even if behind the backstop, lest an errant hit or throw sail magnetically toward my cranium.

I was also taught that if my family drags me along to an event, it's to watch and observe — not for playing or running around. That was to be done on my own time. The few high school basketball games I attended during elementary school were as a fan, where I sat in the bleachers for a couple of hours, no matter if the game held my interest or not.

If today's high school sporting events don't hold the attention span of the modern entertainment addict, that could be unfortunate for coaches in the year 2020 and beyond. As short and fickle as my attention span was, I was required to sit and observe how games are being played — whether it was exciting or not.

Not to mention, with all the electronics put into the hands of youth now, there must be enough video games to hold a child in one place for a couple of hours, if a parent is comfortable with that. The young student may or not be interested in playing or studying sports — but it's at least better than running at breakneck speed in a cramped area, with no attorney present.

If children find high school athletics so unappealing that they cannot focus, maybe they shouldn't be at these contests. Maybe they'd be better suited staying home — instead of relying on public schools to be the babysitters.

I love to see children learn through playing and getting exercise, and being themselves. I also love to see children learn by focusing on their main reason for showing up someplace.