It’s not just a hobby

Non-athletic sports need more recognition


When asked about the Jones chess team, most students will probably respond with surprise that Jones even has a chess team. In fact, most students haven’t heard about many of the numerous non-athletic sports offered at Jones, such as Model UN, Scholastic Bowl, Science Olympiad, esports, Debate Team, and more. Just last week, the Jones chess team worked incredibly hard competing in a major Chicago inter-high school tournament, getting 5th place for teams and having one of their players get second place in the individual player ranking. The team accomplished this through extensive weekly practice sessions focused on developing the skills of each player, as well as creating a community that encourages growth and learning. Most Jones students have no idea about any of this. Time and time again, non-athletic team sports are left almost completely unnoticed by the majority of the student body, this needs to change in order to give the teams the recognition and support they need and deserve. 

Jones, like many selective enrollment high schools, is very academics-focused. This type of environment leads many students to have an interest in non-athletic, often intellectually challenging, activities. As a result, many people in the school play chess regularly, yet only about 10 people come to meetings and even fewer actually participate in tournaments. Chess isn’t the only team – members of the Jones Debate team, Science Olympiad team, and Scholastic Bowl team all expressed a similar desire for more members. For most of the athletic sports teams at Jones, the number of interested players is so high that they need to use tryouts in order to narrow down the number of players. However, with non-athletic sports, oftentimes there are so few interested players that they can barely even field a full team. For example, last year, the chess team intended to go to the High School Chess Nationals, but was barely able to find enough people who were interested in order to qualify, with the team traveling to Memphis only having four players. In order to successfully increase participation and team size, more students need to know about the non-athletic sports at Jones.

Oftentimes, among those that do know of the non-athletic sports at Jones, many people will say things to the effect of, “Isn’t that just a hobby though, and not an actual sport?” A major reason why non-athletic sports are consistently underappreciated is that people just don’t think of them as legitimate sports. This argument, however, doesn’t hold up when you look at major organizations’ definitions of sports, such as the International Olympic Committee’s list of recognized sports. Chess is recognized as a possible contender for future inclusion in the Olympics under their official list of sports, and various different esports are beginning to make an appearance in the Olympics as well. In fact, a set of five different simulated sports, including baseball and rowing, competed in the Olympic Virtual Series. 

There is also discussion of plans for the inclusion of further virtual sports and possibly even traditional video games in future Olympics. Sure, the Olympics aren’t planning to include Science Olympiad or Model UN anytime soon, but that doesn’t diminish their validity as team sports. In fact, many of these team sports look incredibly good on college applications, much like being on an athletic sports team, further demonstrating the validity of non-athletic sports. People often seem to think of non-athletic sports as being a casual engagement without much emotional involvement. However, just like in sports such as soccer or basketball, those on non-athletic teams tend to be incredibly passionate about their team and devoted to learning and growing both as an individual competitor and a member of their larger team. Given the amount of time and effort put in by those on the teams, the non-athletic sports at Jones really cannot be minimized to “just a hobby”.

Lastly, it’s important to note that these teams representing Jones in competition are just the same as the athletic sports teams. Many of the non-athletic teams are regularly competing both locally against schools in Chicago, and nationally against high schools from all over the country. Sports teams help to build a sense of community within a school, allowing students to connect with each other whether they are in the teams themselves, friends with students on the teams, or just appreciating them from afar. Athletic sports are so important to the community because they represent Jones in competition with other high schools, so why aren’t non-athletic sports given as much appreciation when they also regularly represent the school in competitions? Clearly, non-athletic sports deserve more attention than they are getting.

More people need to know about the non-athletic sports at Jones, but the knowledge isn’t just going to magically appear. Information at Jones is generally controlled by the administration, such as with school-wide emails and PA announcements. The administration has done well to highlight the successes of athletic sports at Jones, but they should also consider making more announcements about non-athletic sports. Jones students need to know about non-athletic sports, but without support from those in control of information, non-athletic sports will continue to be ignored by the general student body.