Eighty-Five percent of children who live in Boston suburbs participate in one sport or another. Other suburbs across the United States boast similar figures. Yet, only 30 percent of Boston city children participate in sports. In other cities such as Detroit the situation is more discouraging: Participation is only 10 percent.
Sports specialists describe this "sports gap" as a crisis. Their concern is understandable. As a parent/coach told the Monitor, participation in Little League (or Pop Warner football or youth soccer) brings children face to face "with being coached, having something expected of them, realizing that improvement is inherent in the game, and that effort is almost always rewarded." (And let's not forget fun.)
Playing sports also can help keep kids out of trouble. The Pop Warner leagues, for example, began in the late 1920s in Philadelphia when the lives of young vandals were turned around by playing football. Youths who aren't involved in a positive activity like sports are more likely to get into trouble or spend the bulk of their time playing video games or watching TV.
Experts attribute the problem of too few city kids playing sports to a number of factors, including a drop-off in youth leagues and the deterioration of school sports programs, primarily in middle schools.
Part of the solution is more and better resources. But it also includes, as Boston Mayor Thomas Menino says, a substantial change in the way cities treat sports. We may be big professional sports fans, but too many children aren't given the chance to do more than watch a game on television.
Mayor Menino pledges to set up a Youth Sports Congress to find solutions. That will include "bringing together all the programs we have in the city, to find out ... where the shortages are." The mayor believes a 30 percent participation rate isn't good enough. We agree. He's right to try to figure out what's wrong. Other cities likely will take notice.