Reimagining School Sports: Large Rural Public High Schools

May 25, 2021  • Sports & Society Program

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Key Points

  • 1 in 20 rural students specialize in one sport, compared to 7 in 20 at suburban schools.
  • 41% of rural students say they play to make their family proud.
  • 28% didn’t try out because they think they weren’t good enough.

A Project Play initiative of the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program, “Reimagining School Sports” recognizes the essential role that high schools play in preparing young people for life – and the cognitive, educational and health benefits that flow to students whose bodies are in motion. The initiative aims to make quality sport and physical activities accessible to all students by identifying strategies that administrators and other leaders can adopt, aligned with the mission of schools and within the context of a comprehensive education.

The Aspen Institute invited all schools to share their innovations and apply for recognition. A $20,000 award is given to one winner in each of eight school types, made possible by our project partners – Adidas/Reebok, The Dick’s Sporting Goods Foundation, and Hospital for Special Surgery. Reports on each school type are being released in 2021, followed by a final report in early 2022 that will make systems-level recommendations that can drive progress across all school types.

Nationally, 73% of rural public high schools offer interscholastic sports, according to an Aspen Institute- commissioned analysis of 2017-18 Civil Rights Data Collection by Resonant Education. More rural students (42%) play on teams than their suburban (41%) and urban (33%) peers, with those teams often serving as rallying points for their communities. But the challenges today run as deep as local enthusiasm for those proud programs.


Why We’re Reimagining School Sports in America
June 22, 2020 • Tom Farrey