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Originally published Friday, December 6, 2013 at 5:07 PM

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Guest: A sports-themed charter school? The possibilities are endless

The pedagogic possibilities are endless with a sports-themed charter school, writes guest columnist Barry Mitzman.

Special to The Times

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Elitists may sneer at the idea of a sports-themed charter school, as proposed in the first round of charter-school applications for Washington. But let’s not be too quick to judge.

The proposal, put forward by Will Niccolls of the nonprofit Sports in Schools, represents just the sort of creative experimentation that permitting charters is intended to foster. A similar school already operates in New York City and shows some promise.

The idea is to engage and motivate sports-minded but academically adrift students who might otherwise be likely to drop out. One hope is that this approach would help reduce racial and socioeconomic disparities in academic achievement — inequities that traditional public schools have made little progress against — despite many years of focus and effort.

Niccolls deserves credit for his volunteer efforts to aid at-risk students and for bringing forth an interesting idea. Realizing his vision would require much further effort, should the state Charter Commission approve his application.

To the commission, I say: Just do it.

Without trivializing his idea, I would suggest that Niccoll’s approach is behind the times. To be sure, athletics can help teach the important values of preparation, teamwork, discipline and persistence. Yet these values are hardly the ones most characteristic of sports in America today.

A more realistic approach would also teach other values and skills. Fortunately, the pedagogic possibilities are almost endless.

Students could learn biology, for example, by analyzing the blood of Lance Armstrong, although dissecting a formaldehyde-laced frog might be safer.

They could learn physics from analyzing the acoustics of CenturyLink Field during Seahawks games. By observing fans, students could learn about the fall of the Roman Empire.

They could gain real-world skills in creative accounting by examining the financials of Chris Hansen’s proposal for an NBA arena in Sodo. The equivalent of a Ph.D. in political science could be earned just by studying the machinations by which Hansen and his roster of public-affairs consultants managed to get local elected officials lined up behind them.

Drama classes could prepare to stage productions of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” by experiencing genuine existential meaningless and inertia at Mariners games.

Advanced students might take a course in philosophy based on the dialogues of Yogi Berra, the legendary Yankees catcher and sage. As so many athletic philosophers have done, young people could ponder the mysteries of the famous Yogi Paradox: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

In short, the rich possibilities of a sports-themed curriculum suggest a need not only for charter schools but also for universities that are focused on sports.

Oh wait, I forgot. Most already are.

Barry Mitzman is professor of strategic communications at Seattle University.

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