Leonie Staudenmeyer doesn't have a political bone in her body. She arrived in Sitka last August, and started school as a Rotary International exchange student from Donzdorf, a village near Stuttgart, in September. Now almost finished with a full school year here in Sitka, Leo is busy enjoying every experience she can grab. This weekend she was chosen as a member of the Regional All-star Cheerleading Squad... the only Lady Wolves cheerleader selected!
Leo certainly doesn't seem political, but she has a bright future as a diplomat! Her cheerful smiles and playful eyes keep her surrounded with fun and activity. She swims with the Sitka Varsity team, shouts with the cheerleading squad, and performs on the Mock Trial team, where she plays the role of an expert witness. "My mom says I should be an actor" she giggles. In Germany, when she is not engaged in her college prep high school studies she participates in soccer, horse vaulting (gymnastics with a real horse that moves), dance, badminton, and swimming club sports. She has 3 more years of high school and six to eight years of free college education, at which time (if her dad gets his way) she will have a doctorate in Aeronautics and Astronautics.
What is different about the German and American approaches to sports? Leo is quick with her answer. "I like having varsity athletics like you do in the U.S. That is much better than Germany. And though we have some cheerleaders in Germany it is not like here. Cheerleading in Germany is like soccer here... not very big. Cheerleading is so much fun! I love how we stand 2 inches [yes, she said inches, not centimeters!] away from the athletes at the edge of the court. And we entertain the crowd, and get them to sing, and it is so much fun. I love it! That was one reason why I came to the U.S. to do cheerleading!"
That's when Leo was asked if she knew what was happening at the Alaska Legislature. She shook her head. Did she know that 90% of our state revenue comes from oil taxes... and oil prices are down? No, that was news to Leo. Was she aware that the Legislature is trying to figure out how to deal with the loss of almost $3 Billion in tax revenue.... and that right now they are working hard to figure out a way to cut government services .... including education? Without hesitation Leo interjected -- "I wouldn't cut sports at all! It is way healthier." Oops... politics....
What's so great about high school athletics?
Since Leo didn't grow up here, she never had a chance to take high school sports for granted. She never had an opportunity to think of all these teams and sports, plus debate and Mock Trials ... and cheerleading ... as a luxury. To her, sports that anyone can participate in are vital because, after all, it's an important part of education. It teaches character, discipline, grittiness and persistence. For Leo, "I like the school spirit you have here. Athletics is fun... and it's healthy."
Leo probably hadn't read the studies which agree with her. For example, researchers from Cornell and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich teamed up to look at more than 700 WWII veterans who passed a stringent military physical exam in the 1940s. The team compared the snapshots of their health as soldiers with their health today, 50 years later. The study looked at all the factors one might think of ... type of job, eating habits, socioeconomic level, etc... and found "one critical youthful predictor of whether a man would be physically active after the age of 70: it was whether he participated in high school varsity sports." According to the reporting of Jim Baugh, founder of Phit in America, the study concluded that "school-based organized sports should be preserved because they contribute to later physical activity levels and decrease the risk factors for early morbidity."
We urge everyone to consider the final paragraph of this ambitious study:
"The first suggestion would be to maintain or enhance
high school athletic programs, even in an era of shrinking school budgets. It has been noted that physical
education classes may be the only opportunity for many
adolescents to engage in weekly physical activity*.
School-based organized sports should be preserved because they contribute to later physical activity levels and
decrease the risk factors for early morbidity...."
*Gordon-Larsen P, McMurray RG, Popkin BM: Determinants of adolescent
physical activity and inactivity patterns. Pediatrics 2000, 105(6):e83.