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Q & A: Federation Head Outlines Pressures on Co-Curricular Activities

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Robert F. Kanaby, the executive director of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, last month was named the executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, which oversees high school co-curricular activities.

A former teacher, coach, and high school principal, Mr. Kanaby will take up his new post in Kansas City, Mo., in February. He spoke about his duties with Staff Writer Karen Diegmueller.

Q. What are the most pressing issues facing co-curricular activities?

A. First and foremost are the financial constraints that are being felt by school districts throughout our country. That tends to have a negative impact on interscholastic activities because [they] tend to be the first that are looked at [to] cut.

[We need] to try to establish a position whereby these activities are looked upon for their true educational value. They offer young people the kinds of things that are not found in the basic curriculum in our schools. [We hope to impress on] local districts that when cuts are required, they do not immediately look at these activities as something of less an educational value to young people than the regular curriculum of math, science, and so on.

To list a few others, obviously [one is] the continued promotion of sportsmanship, which again is linked to all of these activities. We need to continue to reinforce the fact that these events should be conducted within an educational atmosphere, and the promotion of sportsmanship is certainly paramount to that thrust.

I believe we also face some serious issues of liability-insurance lawsuits, which threaten these kinds of events. We are [also] looking at continuation of coaches' educational programs [and] our drug-education efforts.

Q. Some educators are concerned that schools are using more "walk on'' coaches. Can the federation impose rules on qualifications or training?

A. Unfortunately the federation is not going to be in a position where it can legally require that individuals meet certain standards. That becomes a state-by-state determination.

Probably something the federation can continue to do is develop the kinds of programs that assist in the development of individuals ... that enables them to increase [more than] their knowledge of X's and O's, because that, quite frankly, is probably ... not as important as the development of those things that promote the values that can be learned in these events.

Q. There is a shortage of minority and women coaches and athletic administrators. How do schools attract such candidates and what can the federation do to increase the numbers?

A. Individual schools [should] continue concerted efforts to seek out candidates. I realize that is easier said than done. But first and foremost is to redouble, triple, quadruple efforts in order to seek out those individuals.

Second, so many of our athletes meet those requirements. What can be done is have our respective coaches encourage young people, when they have them for concentrated blocks of time, to pursue those opportunities, whether it's in education or in the private sector, by staying involved in activities of their choice.

Q. Some glaring disparities still exist between girls' and boys' sports. What steps can the national federation take to promote gender equity?

A. It rests with education and presenting information. We're 20 years after Title IX and certainly much has been done, and that is to the credit of the school districts throughout our country that have focused on these issues and provided the opportunities for young people.

But in those areas where total compliance has not been met, one of the things the federation can do is to continue to promote what meets those requirements and to constantly put forth before the state associations and then, in turn, before the school districts what is acceptable and what isn't.

Q. Several new studies challenge the notion of athletics being a positive force. They suggest that athletes believe they can flout the rules of society. Is there such a danger?

A. I buy into the fact that there is a tremendous potential within athletics, as there is in most things that occur in our society, to become misplaced and to become out of balance. One of the things, though, that I think has to be pointed out is we have more than five million youngsters nationwide who are involved in these programs. Unfortunately, those circumstances where people do not follow rules, where things get out of balance and end up with incidents of riots or fights or lack of sportsmanship, have a tendency to overshadow the tremendous good that is being done ... within the framework of interscholastic athletics and activities.

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